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Tropical Storm Irene Survey Results Summary


Hurricane Irene Response Survey analysis (Sept 2011)

Compiled by Doug Smith. 28 September 2011

119 Responses. The public web survey on the town’s public information response during Hurricane Irene posted by the Portsmouth Economic Development Committee has been deactivated. It received 119 responses over a two week period. The responses suggest that town officials could do a much better job communicating with town residents. A brief analysis of quantitative data from this survey is provided below.

Town Communications BEFORE the Storm. The first seven questions on the survey related to the way the town communicated with town residents before the storm hit.  59.7 % of the respondents felt that the information they received from the town before the storm was inadequate or poor. Perhaps not surprising, the best sources of information about the storm as it approached was not the town, but local TV (65.5%), Portsmouth Patch on the internet (47.1%), and local radio (26.2%). Only 3.4% of respondents got information from the Portsmouth Town website. Of the 27.1% who did consult the town web site, only 7.6% thought that the information on it was useful. 72.9% of respondents did not know that any storm related information was posted on the town web site.

The Evacuation Order. Response to a question about the town’s evacuation order for Island Park and Common Fence Point were especially interesting. Only 5% of respondents were told about the evacuations by town officials and 20.6% never heard about the evacuation order. Portsmouth Patch (41.2%) and other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and local blogs (18.6%) were the best sources for this information, with local radio following at 11.6%.

Rating the Town’s Communications Efforts. Asked to rate the town’s efforts to communicate with residents prior to the storm, over 60% of respondents felt that these efforts were poor or totally inadequate. These poor or inadequate responses to specific categories included:

  1. Visibility and accessibility of town leadership – 63.5%
  2. Communications of town plans for the storm – 65.1%
  3. Providing information as the storm grew nearer – 65.7%
  4. Communicating evacuation plans, procedures and reasons – 65.4%
  5. Providing periodic updates via public media – 62.1%
  6. Providing contact information for problems or concerns – 66.6%

Use of Social Media. In two questions about the potential use of Facebook and/or Twitter by the town to communicate with residents during storms, 56% of respondents said that they would follow a town Facebook page for emergency information while only 16.1% said the same about Twitter.

Receiving Information While the Power was Out. After the storm passed through, 95.3% of respondents were without power for over 24 hours. 28.3% indicated that they had an emergency generator that satisfied at least their minimal power needs during the power outage.

When electrical power was out, 61.1% of respondents got their information from portable or car radios, 40.7% from the internet via smartphones, and 36.3% from personal contact with their neighbors or others. Only 2.7% indicated that they had personal contact with town officials.

Information from the State. While the town’s public communications response to Hurricane Irene was seen as poor, information coming from the State during and after the storm was generally considered good or excellent (72.2%)

Information Received from Town Leadership. While several comments praised the work of the various town departments, the results of this survey indicate that the leadership of the town of Portsmouth needs a much more robust and proactive communications plan to keep town residents informed during emergency conditions. The comment section of this survey had many interesting and useful ideas and deserves to be read in its entirety. This survey also showed the potential use of Facebook – a social media available to the town free on the internet – for keeping residents up to date. While not all residents are Facebook users, it seems a significant number are, and would follow a town Facebook page if it were used to publicize emergency information. Facebook and Twitter are not the sole solutions, however. The town should make more use of public TV and radio channels to keep citizens informed. A “reverse 911” system would also provide a means for getting critical information out to the all or key segments of the public, such as those in an evacuation area. The point is not that there is an easy technical fix to Portsmouth’s communications problem, but that town officials need to be more visible and interactive prior to and during a weather or other emergency. A wide variety of pathways are available for their use in telling town residents what they need to know. The real issue is not the technology but the lack of commitment by Town elected and appointed officials to use it to keep town residents informed.

The PEDC Offered the Following Recommendations to the Town.  The Town administration should;

  1. Establish a hotline telephone number for residents to call for information about town plans during emergency situations.
  2. Establish a “reverse 911” telephone system able to contact all residents in certain at-risk areas of town.
  3. Establish and publicize a Portsmouth Town Facebook page to be used for posting important information to town residents quickly. Update that information frequently.
  4. Establish a public communications plan and designate specific town officials responsible for sending out periodic official information bulletins to local media, including radio and TV stations.
  5. Designate and publicize the identity of specific radio stations (i.e., 630 –WPRO) that should be monitored by Portsmouth residents for official town information during an emergency.


Data from the survey is available in the PDF document – Storm Irene Survey Results (Click Here).