Local Government Websites Before An Expected Emergency

One of the things I hope gets looked at by at least some municipalities that were impacted by Superstorm Sandy is how their web site was used in the lead up to the storm, during the storm, and after the storm.

I just took a look at about 70 clients page views charts for the past 60 days, ending on October 31st. Almost all of them had some of their lowest traffic of the time period over the the weekend before and the first three days of Superstorm Sandy’s impact in Pennsylvania. Five of the sites had spikes, however – and all the spikes were for Friday through Sunday before the storm. As you might expect, traffic then dipped once the weather became bad and electricity was lost.

The five? Two eastern Pennsylvania township web sites, two Central Pennsylvania township web sites, and a Central Pennsylvania transit company. Community based web sites of communities uniformly about to be impacted by the hurricane.

Obviously, that’s a small sample. But there are thousands of local governments with web sites on the East Coast. Surely thousands of them are being monitored by the same analytics software – Google Analytics.

This seems like a good project for study for a public administration program at some university. The days before a known potentially life-changing event, people use online resources to get information that can help them – such as emergency phone numbers, emergency shelter and other programs for those in need, emergency warning programs such as text signups, Twitter feeds, etc. Google has a gigantic store of website user data that could be helpful for planning how government uses their web sites in the future in preparation of a known, impending natural disaster. Recommendations and practices could be determined by mining that data.

I’m not aware of any public administration program working on such data, but would love to hear about it if such is the case. And for other public administration programs at various universities – there’s something there that should be looked into.