This UKGovCamp 10 Session by Al Smith was focused mainly on how council’s responded to January’s Big Freeze in terms of online communication.

Al had some interesting experience and innovations to share around communicating quickly information on school closures, road gritting and any affected services.

The group talked about how in a rapidly occurring situation online communication was best placed to deliver information first and respond to any inquiries from the public. Indeed, in some councils the online communicators were delivering information out of hours before press officers and others were even aware of a developing situation.

This way of working was also discussed – online communicators working in isolation are an unsustainable plan for crisis communications. Too often they are left out of the loop and get information too late or not at all meaning the benefits of the online channel are lost.

Al shared his experience of being able to work out of hours with a line to chief officers and the on-duty press officer. He is also involved in emergency planning so the online work can be included in the plan but also he is aware of where the authority is at in terms of response.

The discussion strayed further into the territory of emergency planning bu eventually came back round to how online could be used to gather information into the council as well as disseminate outward. I briefly outlined a change we were planning on making to how headteachers report school closures, using our secure schools’ extranet to which they all have access. Bringing the information in from this source would mean we could repurpose and quickly send out by RSS, by SMS, and across a number of online channels.

We’re not the only council looking to make changes in this area. Along with us there are many others who are looking at making content delivery not just through the online channel but also make it mobile (I blogged about our stats on visits from mobile and other devices during the January snow). From this a discussion on digital inclusion began with differing views across the participants about whether online was a waste of time or not given how few people can access it well. Ally Hook gave some interesting information about the number of people joining the council’s Facebook page when an unexploded WW2 bomb closed parts of the city.

There were a number of interesting points I took away from the session in terms of developing our online communications in the face of a crisis as well as integrating more fully with the council’s general contingency plan. There were some great social web innovations around reporting the uksnow but these ideas could be applied to other situations. It has also helped consolidate the thoughts floating around my head about not just thinking of online as web, or social media, or mobile – it is all of these, none of these and more.