This year I am fortunate to again have the opportunity to attend WATERCON in Springfield, Ill.It's amazing how every year the conference offers so many great sessions, and the exhibitors always have such interesting displays and information. In addition to attending sessions and talking with vendors, I'll be posting as much as I can on several social media sites so that all of you can follow as much of the conference as possible. Because most of these sites are already listed in a blog post over at the Watercon blog site, I won't list them again here. Instead I encourage you to visit over there. And if you're attending too, I'll be looking for your own posts and photos from the event!

One added treat is a virtual expo we set up to try out that technology. Here's an image of the entry screen – you can find the link to visit the expo over on the Watercon site.

Watercon Virtual Expo Image 


Infographic of the Month – February 2014 (Snapchat!)

Over the last month or so I've gotten several inquiries from people who were wondering about Snapchat – a newer social media tool most often used as an app on a mobile device. The idea behind Snapchat is for you to send an image with or without a message to either all of your followers or a select few. What makes Snapchat different than other social media tools offering similar capabilities is that the image disappears within a given amount of time. So the only way someone can archive it is to take a screenshot of it. While I admit to not using it a lot myself, I'm familiar with it because my kids use it constantly to send photos and texts to their friends, and the younger people at work use it to communicate sometimes instead of texting. 

As you can see from the infographic it is a great tool to reach out to the teen crowd. If a public works agency or industry brand wanted to launch an educational campaign targeted at that age group, it might be worth checking it out.  My concern with promoting it as a communication tool for government agencies is that the message/image is not archived. So I am not sure the use of Snapchat would allow us to meet laws that require storage and retreival of our communications.

I could see a private firm or company using it to send photos of an inspection or field check if the purpose was to only give those in the office a quick view of the site. But because the image would not last, those receiving it would have to make sure to take a screenshot and save it if those images were needed for later referral. 

If someone out there has been successfully using it in engineering or public works, send us the info, and we'll post it on the blog!


Snapchat Infographic


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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

Winter Weather Safety – Resources for Braving the Storm of 2014

NOAA Frostbite Poster

Central and eastern sections of the U.S. have experienced snowfall and in some areas record cold over the last day or so. In a few locations, the temperatures have been so low that it has become dangerous to even be outside. However many government workers who provide essential services like police, fire, and snow removal still must brave the cold. If your government is looking for resources to help educate your community about staying safe during extreme weather conditions or if you are looking for information to give your workers to help them stay safe, check out the following agency sites for some winter survival tips:


Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety – this guide combines all of the key content of the CDC Winter Weather website into one downloadable, printable file. The CDC also has infographics, brochures, audiocasts, and other resources you can download and use in your public service messages. You can access this information through the sidebar at the link posted.



WINTER STORMS & EXTREME COLD site – here you can find many tips and advice for before, during, and after a winter storm

Winter Fire Safety – The US Fire Administration has some great resources to get the word out about fire safety during winter weather. They offer an infographic and social media messages and statistics you can post along with videos, audiocasts, and banners like the one at the bottom of this post.


NOAA: In addition to linking to NOAA's forecast page for your area, you can access and use the many resources NOAA offers on their site.


AAA: Tips for Safe Winter Driving Video – the video below was found on YouTube and can be embedded on websites or social media pages to offer citizens winter driving tips. You can also do a general search of YouTube to find other videos offering similar advice.


Additional Resources:

It's also useful to share the following types of information with the public. If you don't already have this information readily available, you can usually find it by searching on Google or Bing for the term and the name of your state or city and then offering the link for your local information. Also, some of this information may already be available from other departments at your city.


Warming Centers – It is common during winter storms to lose power. When that happens, you don't people wondering where they can go to keep warm. So it's useful to post this information ahead of time either on your website or on social media to remind people if they lose power, there are places they can go to avoid the cold. Here is the link to the one I found for our state by searching on Google for "warming centers" in Illinois: Keep Warm Illinois

Closings and Cancellations – extreme winter weather often results in closings and cancellations. If people can find out about these ahead of time, it might keep them from trying to head out in dangerous conditions. You can usually find a link to a site posting these by searching on Google or Bing and adding the name of your city or area in the search space. If your local radio or newspaper sites post a page with these, you can post a link to their page or you can always direct people to listen for closings and cancellations on a station if you know they announce them at regular times throughout the day. 

Pet Care Tips – The Humane Society offers tips and advice on how to take care of pets and wildlife during the winter. Providing a link to their site or to sites of similar organizations can help people keep their pets safe.

Frozen pipes or water meters – sometimes extreme cold can cause pipes or water meters to freeze. Because the process for dealing with this varies from agency to agency, you will need to prepare this information based on how your own area handles this type of issue. The typical type of advice to offer is:

  • How to find and turn off your main water valve in your home
  • Information about keeping drafts off pipes and other steps that can be taken to prevent frozen lines
  • Tips for thawing pipes
  • A number to call for help or information

Snow plowing updates – many communities now post regular updates on where plows are or which roads are open or closed and where there are parking bans. Again, this is highly localized information that is usually obtained by the public works department. Here are some examples of what other communities offer to keep citizens updated on road conditions and snow plowing operations:


Winter Storm Fire Safety


Employers, Schools, Social Media, and You – An Update

Peep - the all seeing spyIt has been about a year and a half since this blog first discussed (link here) how some employers and public schools were forcing employees and students to allow unrestricted access to their private social media accounts. We also pointed out the risks associated with those actions. At the time, there had not yet been a lot of discussion about this online, particularly when the actions were undertaken by schools. But since then, people have recognized that this was happening, and fortunately, many states now have laws to prevent this abuse of privacy. Also, over the last month or so, I learned another important piece of information that would help at least those in Illinois who end up dealing with a public school system that violates a student's rights. So with all this new information, I wanted to update everyone on the topic.

Addressing a student's civil rights

First and most importantly, I received confirmation of what I had suspected – at least in Illinois, public schools cannot simply call in a student without their parent's knowledge to undergo sensitve questioning particularly when it involves anything related to sex. This is true whether the public school official is the same or opposite sex of the student. Should this happen to someone for whom you are responsible, you can try to talk to the school officials. But if you read the initial article about our own experience with this type of situation, you would know that this does not always work. Some officials choose to enter into a denial and attack mode and refuse to address their abuse of a student's rights. So if that happens and you are looking for resolution of the matter, I finally learned the agency to talk to is the Illinois Department of Human Rights. If you follow that link, there is more information about what actions are prohibited in education and how you can file a complaint. On the flip side, if you are a public school official or manager/supervisor, it is imperative that your staff receives training in these laws. Typically it seems teachers are very aware and respective of any requirements involving a student, but public school officials need to make sure this training also extends to administrative staff.

Another point to remember as a public school administrator is that once you make the decision to force a student to give access to social media accounts, you can potentially gain knowledge of sensitive information that, depending on how it is handled, could again lead to a violation of the student's civil rights or other types of liability. Because of the risks involved and because forcing access to a student's social media accounts can be viewed as a violation of a student's constitutional rights, states have been enacting legislation to protect these rights. All public school officials need to be aware of their own state's laws related to this matter and discuss their policies and procedures with their own attorneys.

Legislation passed to restrict social media access

Even more prevalent have been actions by employers to gain access to an employee's account. In response to this, in 2012, six states passed legislation to regulate an employer's access to an employee's social media accounts: Maryland, California, Illinois, Michigan, Delaware, and New Jersey. Of those, California, Delaware, Michigan, and New Jersey included legislation that also regulated access to social media accounts of students. That year a total of 14 states introduced legislation to address this issue.

And in 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, ten states, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington, passed either new or additional legislation to regulate an employer's access to their employees' social media accounts. Of those, Arkansas, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, included legislation to regulate access to social media accounts of students. Another 24 states introduced legislation to address an employer's and. in some cases, school's access to social media accounts.

If you are interested in checking out each specific article of legislation, the National Conference of State Legislatures has a comprehensive write up here: 


Employer restrictions on the use of social media

Over the years, regulating social media at work through the use of a policy has become more complicated. What employers have discovered is that these regulations need to navigate and take into consideration existing laws and employee rights. That seems obvious, but the reality is that many did not. A good example of what to take into consideration in your policy is found in A Legal Guide To The Use Of SOCIAL MEDIA IN THE WORKPLACE, a document written by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development and Gray Plant Mooty. This comprehensive guidance covers everything from use of social media during work to its use outside of work and includes discussion about ownership of accounts and copyright issues. While it is written for Minnesota-based employers, it is still a great example of what a good policy should cover and consider.

If you are looking for more of an international perspective, the American Bar Association has a good summary here: Social Media in the Workplace: Employer Protections versus Employee Privacy.

Finally, I've noticed lately some agencies considering policies that would prevent employees from indicating their employer on their own social media accounts. However, before an employer imposes such a restriction they should consult with their attorney and read the decisions published by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). In one of their memos, the NLRB suggests that such a restriction might be unlawful. Here is a link to the site where the NLRB has a few more links to their decisions related to this topic: Acting General Counsel issues second social media report.

Overall, whether you are an employer, employee, school administrator, or student, it is important to understand social media is not something to be taken lightly, and the regulation and handling of its use is something that needs to be done with a clear understanding of the law. This can be difficult at times because this involves applying existing laws and rights and human behavior to an ever-changing technology. To ensure a successful and lawful social media policy, each agency should consult regularly with their attorney about their policies, and employees and students need to understand their own rights and responsibilities.


Note: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to be offered as a legal opinion or decision.




Using Social Media to Promote Safety Around Trains

Melbourne Metro, a transit service based in Australia, has been successfully using social media to educate the public about safety around trains. Last year they produced this video called Dumb Ways to Die starring a cast of cute little characters and a catchy tune.

And now Melbourne Metro has released a game related to the video's theme. You can download the game for free at iTunes here: Dumb Ways to Die App. These efforts provide a good example of how an agency or company can make use of social media to promote a serious message in a fun way that leads people to actually pay attention. Based on their success, I could easily see how this particular campaign could now be extended to offline formats such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc which helps to further promote their message to an even wider population.

You can check out more about their campaign on the Dumb Ways to Die website



In 2011 in Australia there were 33 rail fatalities reported and 66 injuries (one region not reporting). According to the Federal Railroad Administration, in 2011 there were 673 people (non-employees/contractors) killed in train-related casualities in the United States. That same year 3,567 people (non-employees/contractors) were injured.