Last week a tornado touched down in our neighborhood of over 400 homes and did some slight damage to houses but considerable damage to some trees on one particular street. It knocked the power out for 24 hours in much of our area, it caused the rerouting of traffic from a main county road through a subdivision street in our neighborhood, and all in all was a bit of a story in the neighborhood.
The power company provided regular updates on their call-in line but they were generally not accurate until the last three hours we were without power. Cell phones were pretty much the path of communication for most within the neighborhood as most didn’t have a generator, although many could go to work outside our community and get information via television or Internet.
This week I decided to ask our members whether they thought it was worth our Homeowners’ Association investigating either a text or Twitter based information relay system in case of future events that cause such disruption in power and communications. We live in Pennsylvania, and ice storms can do a lot of damage in the winter, and we occasionally get big storms from stalled hurricanes in the late summer that can knock out power. Tornadoes have been rare, but here was one.
We can’t read much into our results of our online poll at this point. Only 45 households in the neighborhood have responded, although 42 of those believed we should either do a texting or Twitter feed in case of emergency. We do have the ability to collect cell phone numbers from members who wish to provide them through our web site, and we could do the same for Twitter accounts. The strong preference from those who have responded is for a text option, rather than a Twitter feed.
So it looks like we’ll investigate the texting option. This is all new to me and I’m not sure how cost-effective our small HOA can be in subscribing to such a service or maintaining the currency of the information, but we’ll investigate it. We do not have much of a budget to provide such a service, so if it’s expensive it will be a non-starter. I do not see much in the way of HOA activity using texting being discussed on the web. I see some specialized services, such as Village Defense and AssociationVoice but those are likely to be beyond our budget. That’s why Twitter is attractive – but there’s not enough of a gravity there to use it without a major training program of neighbors.