Recent events, such as the Baldwin County water emergency, led county commissioners to evaluate the government's internet presence for information dissemination.
“I felt like we didn't have a system in place to really notify people as well as we should have,” commission chair Sammy Hall, District 3, said during Tuesday’s work session. “I want to know what's available for us.”
Hall said if a “conserve water” message got out to the public faster maybe the situation would have improved at the same rate.
County Finance Director Dawn Hudson asked elected officials to point staff in the proper direction.
“A lot of the increase in technology will also involve increase in cost. These are issues we did not discuss during the budget process, so I can tell you right now, there is not additional money for it,” Hudson said.
County Information Systems Manager Cindy Bush brought the board up to date with possible website and social media reach.
Georgia College's Multimedia and Technology Center handles county website maintenance. The college built the site in 2003.
Bush said the school doesn't regularly bill for services.
“There's not a set monthly amount,” she said.
Hudson said “we probably haven't paid them in a couple of years.”
“This has been a fit for them too because they use their graduate students to help upgrade the site,” Hudson said. “We are in the process of doing a large upgrade, which went live before everything was ready. When we do a major upgrade, they do charge us. They'll do a proposal in advance so we will know what it is.”
The finance director said the latest site improvement allows for better messaging posts. After the change, Bush said staff would have more control of the county website.
Bush said only six updates about the “Boil Water Notice” and water shortages went on the county's website in eight days.
“Getting the information is part of the problem,” she said Tuesday.
The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, fire rescue and water department currently operate Facebook pages.
“More people use Facebook these days than would check their email or go into our webpage,” Bush said.
Phone messaging alerts cost is high.
Bush said Georgia Military College's basic text alert setup runs $80,000.
Georgia College runs a successful text, email and call emergency alert system as well that all students join.
The county does put out an E-newsletter, but only 165 people subscribe.
Hall suggested finding multiple ways to communicate with constituents.
“We need more than an emergency preparedness plan for communications,” the District 3 Commissioner said.
Commissioner Tommy French, District 2, said text alerts might be the best way.
“Most people carry cellphones,” he said. “If someone gets up at 3 o'clock in the morning to drink water, they aren't going to go by their computer and log on too often.”
The county board will review communication procedure under the community EMA plan.
County Manager Ralph McMullen said things would be improved through a designated plan choosing one person to spread vital information.
“We'll have to use multiple sources to get the word out there,” McMullen said.
Commissioner Henry Craig, District 4, said the county must “make the big jump.”
Craig cited the Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce sites revamped by local developers Goebel Media Group as a blueprint for a “bold” web presence.
“If Georgia College can take us there, that's great,” he said Tuesday.
Bush said starting from scratch on a new server or with a new domain name is expensive. For example, Bibb County owns its domain and has two full-time webmasters.
“Doing our own totally would be far fetched,” she added Tuesday.
County staff will research options for better internet presence per the commission’s request.