Make Your Plan Part 4 – Week 2

Make Your Plan - Week 2

Part four of making the plan looks at communication:

What is my family/household communication plan?

For our communication plan, we need to have a list of all important numbers such as those of family members, doctors, emergency services, hospitals, schools, and possibly employers. This list should be kept in paper format by all household members and in our phones.

Remember during a disaster sometimes only texts will go through rather than voice calls. We created a text group with all our family members including those who live in our household and those who do not.

We also need to figure out an emergency meeting place in our home, neighborhood, and outside our community. Any one of these may need to be accessed depending on the level of disaster.

Discuss how your family will communicate during the threat of a disaster, during the event, and after. You can also practice by having a test of a disaster to make sure everyone knows how to respond and where to go.

The site offers a fillable Family Emergency Communication Plan you can download by clicking that link.

That’s it for communication. Tomorrow we’ll focus on the next step – insurance.

As a side note, throughout this series of posts about getting prepared, I may mention certain products, services, agencies, etc. At no time is it my intention to promote a specific product or service or agency. Each is mentioned only for informational purposes.  Of course as a government employee, I do receive a salary from the government for the time I work on my job, but I don’t receive any compensation from any commercial entities I mention or include in these posts.


Infographic of the month – January 2014

This month's infographic is focused entirely on social media. I wanted to share it with you because it struck me as a simple yet interesting and informative display of the evolution of communication. I also liked how it gives a timeline of when each technology was launched.

Social Media Timeline
Courtesy of: Prohibition

Should We Give People Free iPads?

New iPad - from the last few days I've been exposed to two ideas that interest me in how each demonstrates the need to properly vet an idea. (As an aside for for all of you familiar with MMORPGs: I figure if life was a game, "Vetting an Idea" would be considered a passive ability for those in the engineering profession.) First on Friday, I came across a quick example from the business world. One of my favorite companies, Linden Lab, offered a package deal on Amazon for their product Second Life. The deal was that you could buy a "Starter Package" for $0 (marked down from $9.95) and get a free vehicle for use in Second Life along with $1,000L which has a value of roughly $4 USD. While there is the root of a good idea here, I am not sure its implementation was properly thought through. The problem is that it was supposed to be ONE PER CUSTOMER. Yet people quickly discovered, for those who have multiple characters/avatars in Second Life, it was possible to buy this for each one. By the end of the day on which it launched, the offer was discontinued.

I won't go into the whole analysis of it here because there have been many blog posts already written about what happened. But I offer it to show that vetting an idea is important for both business as well as government. And the failure to do so can result in unintended consequences along with a backlash of criticism from the community. 

Should government give people free iPads?

The example I really wanted to delve into was an idea shared with me by another government professional who works for another community. He is kicking around the idea of giving a free iPad to one or two residents on each construction project to help improve communications during a construction project. Now at first, my engineer sense, which in many ways seems to work very much like Spiderman's spidey sense, says this is a bad idea with terrifying results. And not for the reason you are probably thinking. But in an effort to not be the "Negative Nancy" that many accuse engineers of being, I thought I'd ignore my first reaction and try to see how to make this work. And by doing so, begin putting it through the vetting process.

Lindberg Road Reconstruction in LaSalle, IL

Formulating the outcome

So the first step is to formulate the desired outcome or put down in writing why we are doing this. In this particular case, this person wants to increase communication during a construction project. He figures there are always one or two people on a project who always want to hang out and watch so why not give them the means to manage the communication for the project for their neighborhood. So he suggested giving them free iPads and asking them to use them to keep everyone up to date.

How did we do this before?

As some background, in the past and prior to social media project-related communication was normally done through several methods: sending out letters to the community and those most affected by the project and making personal contact throughout the project with those located within its limits or those affected by the project site. Now with the Internet, we can also add this information to websites and other social media sites. I experimented with using Twitter for this purpose back in 2008 and found it to be very successful. (See the Twitter stream from that project here:

Anticipating the unintended consequences

So let's anticipate any problems or consequences that could be caused by introducing the iPad idea. One of the first that comes to mind for me is based on a common occurrence engineers experience on the jobsite. They are often faced and confronted by a high degree of concern for fairness between properties. If one person gets their driveway touched and others do not, people are wondering why. Some demand they get the same treatment. Usually after we explain that only driveways impacted by the design and construction of the project are touched, most people understand and drop their demand for a new driveway. After all, we are not building the project for the purpose of giving everyone a new drive, but only to fix the road. However I have worked places where people become raving mad about not getting a new driveway, even if it isn't needed, just because their neighbor got one. So I would anticipate that giving a free iPad to one or two people on a project might bring out this sense of "my neighbor got something I did not." 

The other issues are more of  legal questions. First what if the iPad is given with the understanding that it will be used to communicate to others and the person does not do this. How would the city enforce their expectation and can they and is doing so a good idea? 

Another question is what if no one wants to do this? The residents who spent the most time on my projects did not seem like the type who would be interested in serving as the information people for the project so how do we find those who do? And what will be the process for making sure we have given everyone equal opportunity to volunteer?

The other legal question is that if the city gives someone a free iPad and tells them they expect it to be used to communicate information about the project and the person does this, but they also use it to display child pornography does the city have any liability in their actions? Perhaps there is no liability, but not being a lawyer, I am not sure.

Asphalt Paving on Anderson Blvd in Geneva IL

Thinking outside the box

So how could these two problems be avoided? Perhaps there could be a lottery for the iPad so that the opportunity to use it is by chance. But that might increase the risk that it would not properly be used for its intended purpose. Could an information kiosk be set up on each job with restrictions on what could be added to it? Could we have the person receiving the iPad sign something to protect the city should it be used for illegal purposes?

I am not sure of the answers to much of this and am still considering all aspects and trying to find solutions. I am also sure the person suggesting this plans to run it through their own vetting process. But in the meantime, I thought it'd be a good topic to throw out to the community for feedback because I am sure at some point someone in your own community might suggest a similar idea. I'm also interested in hearing what citizens would think about their government trying out this idea.



A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 25


Day 25

Water Main Extension

Most of the first half of my morning was spent working on a cost estimate for the water main extension I have designed. I also filled out all the IEPA permits for the project and had our water superintendent sign them. 

PVC Pipe

Then I filled out the EcoCat to determine if there were any endangered species. This came back negative which is what I suspected – the area through which  the water main will go is an abandoned railroad and quarry that is now a park within our city. Next I will have to write a letter to the Historic Preservation to ask them to determine if there are any historic preservation issues with the site. But again, I suspect based on the previous uses on the site that this will also come back negative.

Storm Sewer Project

During the last part of the morning, I dropped off the legal description for the easement we will need to install storm sewer behind some homes on the east side of town. There's signficiant backyard flooding in this area so we will install a couple inlets and tie them into our storm sewer. But because the inlets need to be in the backyards, the city will need an easement. Our policy is that the homeowner needs to prepare the easement document so once we get this, I will submit it for council consideration. If they approve it, we will install the storm sewer.

Miscellaneous Resident Concerns

We also checked out  a drainage concern a neighbor had about some work that took place near their property. Then we checked out a report of someone dumping brush on city property and possibly obstructing a drainage way. We found the brush pile which was significant and told the people who had been dumping it that it needed to be moved asap.

Road Project

In the afternoon, we continued our task of driving the roads to determine road conditions.

Other stuff

A couple of us went out to lunch today with someone who had worked here earlier in the year as an intern. It was great to touch base with her and find out what she was up to and hear how GIS is handled where she works now. I was thinking earlier today, we have had five interns so far this year. They have all been great workers, and they helped us get a lot of work done.

Social Media/Communication/Customer Service Workshop!!!

Then at the end of the day, I spoke with the education coordinator for our local APWA chapter. We are planning a communication/social media/customer service workshop in October. We want to offer a fun and engaging day that helps everyone learn how to make the most of the tools that are out there. So if you know of anyone in the Chicago Metro area doing great and interesting things with social media/communication/customer service or public outreach, let me know. We'd love to have them participate in our workshop. We could even remote in people, so if you don't live or work around here and have something great to present, we could remote you in through Skype or other methods.

Hope everyone has an awesome weekend! and keep our public works colleagues who are handling the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in your thoughts and prayers!


Can you communicate as well as a fourth-grader?

One thing that I have learned from my time in Second Life is how much all of us have in common even though we all work in different professions. Sometimes I think it is because all the work that we do, no matter the field, is based upon communication. Whenever anything goes wrong at work, what is it that EVERYONE says? “We need better communication next time.” But does that ever happen? Do we ever really make an effort to improve communications?

Up to the launch of the Internet, the only means of communication in the business world had been though conversations or letter writing. So as we tried to improve communication back then did we talk more? Maybe at first but then eventually we slipped back into old habits – it was never convenient to communicate. We didn’t see people, or they were not there when we telephoned, or we just didn’t have time to write another letter. Or perhaps conversations between co-workers were frowned upon as a waste of time.

And this is why I think the move to Web 3.0, or whatever it is called these days, is so important. The Web has given us, and continues to give us, so many means of communication and has made it so easy for us to communicate with anyone anywhere that there should be no excuse anymore for a lack of communication. If you are not adequately communicating today, it is your own fault for not learning the available tools.

With all the blogs, vlogs, wikis, virtual spaces, text messaging, internet-based phone and radio, social networks, and Web sites, there is no excuse for not communicating. The scary part of all this is that those of us who are out of college are already behind on the use of these tools. Today, as I was following my new philosophy of learning how to do my job better by researching what others are doing in their fields, I came across a wonderful blog by a school teacher: From reading her blog and the links off of it, I realized, school kids have already figured this out!! Fourth-graders are blogging and setting up wikis and using all these tools as if they have been around for years.

So for anyone who might still be thinking that this is all going away, you may want to start looking into what is happening on the Web these days. Not only are these tools growing in use each day by those in business, kids in our schools are being taught how to use them as part of their normal classwork. And even though experience in a particular industry still carries some weight, remember, it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t communicate at least as well as a fourth-grader.