Dear DCC: about your services when it floods, when we lose our water supply, our roads wash out, our bridges demolish, usual CD dramas and natural disasters…

PLEASE keep your DCC website home page up to date for citizens, and USE Twitter and Facebook – because your customers use social networking services (aka social media) and we’re connected. Why isn’t DCC connected?

That’s all.

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Geography, Media, People, Politics, Project management

17 responses to “Dear DCC: about your services when it floods, when we lose our water supply, our roads wash out, our bridges demolish, usual CD dramas and natural disasters…

  1. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    “PLEASE keep your DCC website home page up to date for citizens – ”

    We are keeping the info on the homepage up to date the best we can.

    If you can point me to the specific areas of the homepage that you are concerned about, that would be very helpful as I can respond to it accordingly.

    “USE Twitter and Facebook ” –

    We are on FB and Twitter, We would only use them when appropriate and manageable.

    “your customers use social networking services (aka social media) and we’re connected. Why isn’t DCC connected?”

    Not all of our customers use social media and as much as I do agree with you that social media connects people, I don’t think we can say anyone being “not connected” just because they’re not using social media.

    I’m not sure where are you coming from for this view. Please feel free to come and talk to me if you have ideas to push forward the use of soc med at the council.

    Fyi, I was at the Civil Defence bunker on Saturday to help relaying information on road closures, media releases and other important notices. I used Twitter and Facebook a bit and I recognise that there is the need of using these channels to send info out to the mass. We’ll see how we can do next time.

    Sean Lee, Webmaster, DCC

    • Elizabeth

      Hi Sean – for readers, what is DCC’s Facebook page, and its Twitter account?
      We need that clarity for starters.
      This information to hopefully show on the DCC website home page – if it’s there I missed it at time of posting.

      This thread is a start to discussion. We’ll add to it in coming days. Channel’s open.

      Thanks for the invite, I’ll be in touch to make a time this week for a chat :) Have suggestions. So will others.
      Twitterverse is a handy place. Blogging is less immediate. Let’s see where we get to.

      Best, Elizabeth => @10PARK

  2. Hi Sean,

    I’m not sure when Elizabeth checked the site, but I do remember checking on Sunday just after 11am to see what was listed (someone who had traveled up from Balclutha had told me the Taieri was still overflowing its banks, well after high tide). What I could find was “Last updated 29th May” obviously the previous day, so I felt no need to really continue reading as the page was not “up to date”. Many things happened over night including the reopening of State Highway 1 between Waihola and Milton.


  3. Hi Sean

    Thanks so much for responding, however I feel that Elizabeth was somewhat diplomatic/easy on the DCC.

    Personally I think that whatever policy or implementation of PUBLIC information delivery via electronic media the DCC has, is average at best. But over this past weekend has highlighted some woeful inadequacies in current practices. In no uncertain terms any or all electronic media pertaining to the floods and affected areas was poor, if not remiss.

    For instance on Saturday night I was the only ‘official’ current information as to the state of Portobello Road via my Twitter account @five15design. This was down to me actually going out and talking to the contractors. I was able to tweet the fact that Portobello Road between MacBay & town was now open for one lane. Further down the road, talking to the contractors I was the only source of information electronically that was able to provide the latest details, that the road between Company Bay & Broad Bay would in fact be closed Sat night and into Sunday.

    This from a tweet around dinner time Saturday:

    “Contractor has just told me the road will between Portobello & Macandrew Bay will remain closed till at least lunch tomorrow. #NZBigRain”

    This information was a full 10hrs more current than the information available on the DCC website.

    You’ll notice that there was a hashtag #NZBigRain. As you’ll probably know in Twitter with the use of a hashtag events or things are searchable. In this case I coined the term NZBigRain the previous Monday to make all tweets about the coming weather searchable and collated. Tweets over the whole country used #NZBigRain and it was very easy to see the latest information from the classic Citizen Journalists.

    While some are uncomfortable with the term Citizen Journalists (for reasons of bias and impartiality etc) in the case of events such as natural disasters, as demonstrated world wide over the last year, Facebook and Twitter (being the two largest Social Media tools) are the most effective, efficient and popular sources of information.

    This was further illustrated on the Sunday, when our water was out in Macandrew Bay/Company Bay. After several failed attempts to get through to the DCC service line, I had a tweet question answered within literally 1 minute that the water mains had burst. There was of course not a single mention of this on the DCC website. The DCC is not the only ‘traditional’ source of public information which was remiss over the weekend. The ODT, which for whatever reason is actively choosing not to participate in Twitter, had information that was so woefully inadequate that it was the source of many jokes and ridicule on Twitter.

    I’m a little confused what you mean that the DCC is on FB & Twitter. I registered the twitter account @DunedinCity to gift to the city (as there is of course the city of Dunedin in Florida USA). Attempts by me to gift this to the city were rejected.

    A search of Facebook reveals something that could be the DCC’s page, but without branding this of course could have been a page set up by anyone. Further the only information relating to the past extreme weather events was posted by the Otago Chamber of Commerce linking back to your website on the 26th May – last Wednesday. How could that possibly have been of any use to us Saturday let alone Sunday when not only was vast amounts of the Taieri underwater, there was a major water outage on the Peninsula, coupled with phone outage and of course at least 12 slips on Portobello Road.

    If the DCC thinks that its efforts to communicate to the public via electronic media, in particular Social Media, relevant and important (if not vital and life threatening) is up to the mark, then serious questions need to be asked. Sure I am not your typical Social Media user, I’m a heavy compulsive user. By NZ standards, I’m a heavy user, however in other more connected markets I would be regarded as a typical user. In these more sophisticated media markets, it’s evident that Social Media is fast becoming if not the source of news, one of the core important aggregators of important news.

    Why is Social Media so important in situations like the extreme weather we experienced over the last week. Quite simply it’s another way in which the public can be informed. In this modern ultra connected day and age, I and others were able to keep the people in Auckland (or Peninsula) who were on Twitter updated with the very latest information. Of course in situations like the water being out in MacBay on Sunday, I combined the information I gained from Twitter (as to what the hell was going on) with walking across the road to tell the elderly man who lives alone. He was most pleased, as were our other neighbours who ran to each other with the news. Social Media is not as reliant on electricity as other web communication. For instance many modern cell phones have the ability to access Facebook and Twitter even if the power is out. I can use my iPhone to connect my laptop to the internet if need be. Indeed several times over the weekend I ‘tethered’ my computer to the internet via the phone to access the ORC’s Leith Water Level monitoring page.

    Being able to access such information has been demonstrated time and time again as essential to formulating responses to dramatic events. It was almost comical that the person operating the @aa_traffic was retweeting the road information from Auckland that we in Dunedin were providing. My parents in CHCH aren’t on Twitter, but their neighbour is, and late Sat night I got a text message from my retired father asking if I knew the road to Broad Bay was closed, as their neighbour had seen that in a search of the #NZBigRain hashtag. That is a classic example of just how effective this method of communication is.

    There are plenty of examples within NZ of how Social Media can be used and operated. The New Plymouth District Council is possibly one of the finest examples, they are new but they are learning. Take this for example from their official Twitter account @npdcouncil

    “The water to Pomare Pl will be turned off today (thurs) from 1 – 3pm to repair a leak”
    8:40 AM May 27th via web

    That is pure gold. It is short, informative and gets across to a highly connected and motivated section of the population.

    I understand that the DCC had a call centre person working throughout the weekend? However, as demonstrated with the phone lines being out on the Peninsula, this was a source of information that was simply unavailable to part of the population. As you know with websites, Twitter and Facebook, the ability to communicate to a much wider audience vast amounts of information is a relatively easy task.

    How could this work in reality. I have a suggested scenario using the Broad Bay Slip.

    The first attending contracted workers could simply ring the call centre not long after they attend the slip with a quick summary. In less than 5 minutes this information could be posted to FaceBook, Twitter and updated on the DCC website. But unlike the DCC site over the weekend in which information was 10+hrs out of date, once an hour (or so depending on the severity of the event) a contractor could again ring in the latest details, which of course could be updated electronically. For instance the information I was tweeting (from talking to the contractors at the site) was at that stage 10hrs more relevant than anything available ‘officially’.

    This may of course sound like the rants of a privileged media geek, but there could easily have been a situation over the weekend where the road closures could easily have caught out people in desperate need of getting into the city for the hospital etc.

    In this day and age it’s imperative that councils not only embrace modern media but have active engagement policies in which true PUBLIC information is made available to the public in the most current and relevant ways. I was inspired to write my Masters Thesis (on better ways to communicate Weather Information) on the work of the Information Designer Richard Saul Wurman. He had an exceedingly frustrating experience with the Hospital system in the US, and decided to do something about it. This resulted in a revolution in information design, with his mantra, “Public Information should be available to the Public”. His converting the complex information contained in the US census into informative and beautiful info-graphics is groundbreaking work (in the early 2000s).

    I’m not suggesting everything that the DCC does should be instantly digestible to the public, we all know that the current DCC website is a vast improvement over previous incarnations. However I am suggesting that under extreme weather events as we have just seen, that the information currently available from the DCC electronically is woefully inadequate, and in this day and age, this is inexcusable.

    BTW if the DCC wants the Twitter domain @DunedinCity it only needs to ask. If the DCC wants help in getting it up, there are any number of us here in Dunedin (which has a very active connected twitter community) who would be more than willing to help.

    Dunedin Tourism is doing a great job on Twitter, but it would be very nice to see an active and relevant 3 pronged web strategy that served the public.

    PS Sean, I do hope it’s not just you who reads this reply. I know you are an extremely enthusiastic webmaster who really could do so much more with a greater proactive web communication policy.


    Paul Le Comte

    Here’s an example of how powerful Twitter can be. This was a year ago! CNN’s weatherman sent a tweet out asking for weather in your area (which he still does). I replied and sure enough at the next broadcast, there was little old Dunedin, New Zealand on CNN International.

  4. Russell Garbutt

    The ability and means to communicate almost instantly and effectively to the community is there, but the traditional media has once again proven themselves to be woefully inadequate in dealing with instant messaging media.

    Perhaps more importantly than the lack of information is wrong or misleading information. How many people were left wondering where in Central Otago was the settlement of Berwick during the recent floods according to radio news? News of road closures incorporating tortured pronunciations of “maori” names were completely ineffectual because local residents couldn’t recognise the Auckland announcer’s attempts at names such as Omakau.

    The ORC website carried almost real-time graphs of peak river flows, but how many people knew where to find them?

    This recent rainfall was really a small event. When something big happens – like a major event on the Alpine Fault – I think we will all realise in retrospect that places like the DCC and the ORC are simply not equipped to deal with this type of event, and the importance of being able to communicate where traditional means are rendered inoperable.

    Radio should be an effective means of communication to many – but more is the pity it seems to be largely network based and the local service seems to be staffed by people ill-equipped to deal with anything other than material they have read from the paper. Even things like a cancellation service seem beyond them.

    • Elizabeth

      Everyone – loving your comments!
      Sean – I was going to address (some of) these in person with you, but how well everyone’s rendering the issue. I’ll be in touch :)

    • Elizabeth

      How bad is this if you don’t know WHY your water is off [until Monday’s ODT] – WHERE and WHEN it’s happening. WHEN IS IT BACK ON.

      You don’t know which roads are blocked by slips, awash, open or closed – FOR HOW LONG #FiveDaysOfRainInOtago OH. YOUR WEBSITE ISN’T LINKED TO OTHER INFORMATION SITES.

      How bad is this if your local councils aren’t speaking to you… because the phone lines are overloaded, or out.

      How bad is this if your sewage is overflowing, the stormwater drains aren’t coping… YOU CAN’T GET THROUGH ON AFTERHOURS NUMBERS.

      How bad is this if you have no drinking water and you don’t know if a water truck is available…

      How bad is it if local people don’t know HOW to use SOCIAL NETWORKING SERVICES, but they have home computers and mobile phones… WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THIS. SHARED SOLUTIONS.

      It was a little storm centre for some, and a prolonged nightmare for others.

      ODT (MONDAY): Peninsula road closed until tomorrow
      ODT (MONDAY): Water cut to 700 homes

  5. wirehunt

    It would not be hard to set up a GOOD network for this. The whole ball can be started rolling by one tweet/email/blog post or several other different ways. If people want onto an email list fine, that wouldn’t be hard to organise either.

    I was keeping a close eye on the ORC site at river levels (living in Outram). How hard could it be to set up all the different ‘follow me’ badges etc there, and on the DCC websites. Hell, have a website designed specifically for emergency use if need be linked from all the various sites.

    A list to the site named In an emergency follow “…” on all the different services. Have them all interlinked, which is not hard to do so you only send the message once. But potentially inform a massive amount of people.

    I have curtain tweets that come directly to my mobile. If DCC set this up right with a straight emergency site that would be permanently going to my phone. Maybe DCC should also be speaking seriously to the ORC as well to try and integrate with them. In fact I think that might be a critical part of the whole thing.

    But honestly, setting it up isn’t hard and wouldn’t take much.

    • Elizabeth

      As you say wirelink, it’s the links and linkages that do the work.

      Hell, coordinated emergency information might reduce stress, injury and loss. What a thought.

      We have media and networking technology, let’s USE IT WELL.

  6. Hi all

    Thanks for the great, meaningful and thoughtful feedback.

    I wish I have a bit of time everyday to write and read and engage in this kind of forum. Now that I think about it, maybe I should.

    Paul, re the +10 hours delay, I can explain this and I can point fingers at who’s not doing it correctly, but I do think it’s unnecessary. We’ll find ways to handle this issue better next time :)

    Re the use of social media. We have the policy team working on the DCC new media policy – so, hopefully, once this is implemented, we’ll have the chance to better use these channels.

    As I always say to people who talk to me about using social media. Setting up is easy. Technology is available and many of them are free. The hardest part is maintaining or managing the information. Unless you commit your time and effort to look after what you create. Don’t bother.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments. Keep it coming.

    Maybe we could have a coffee session and get together and talk about the DCC website :) what do you think Elizabeth and Paul? will it be useful?


    • Elizabeth

      Too true re information management in a big organisation.
      Coffee’s a great suggestion Sean – I’ll email you and Paul.

  7. wirehunt

    Sean, I look at this as having it all in place for an emergency. Really it doesn’t need any looking after as such. Once you have the appropriate accounts in place, linked properly to each other and to the appropriate websites and MAYBE phone lines, it’s job done. Forget about it till you need it.

    I will assume (I know I know) that DCC and ORC have all the systems in place already when it comes to people doing communications at these times. I will also assume again that they could be trained to use this in the space of ten minutes. Remember, they only need to do the first thing in the chain, your setup will do the rest.
    Hell, write it down for them :D But it’s not hard.

    Also remember they have predicted a massive snowfall somewhere this winter….

  8. Phil

    I remember a former DCC senior manager (now filling a chair in the Delta offices) addressing a DCC staff workshop dedicated to the information delivery to the ratepaying public. This was in the day when remote computer terminals were going to be set up in shopping malls and the like, allowing for people to check out their rates at 3am. Yes folks, it nearly did happen. They even built a couple.

    His comment was (as usual) brief, blunt, and to the point:

    “Last year, outside of my employment, I spent a total of 6 minutes dealing with DCC.”

    A sobering comment, which immediately put proceedings into perspective.

    Councils are like doctors. You generally only have contact when something is wrong. It’s great having links to Council minutes and agendas sitting on the front page. But most people (and this is not a reflection on Council meetings) could not care less about such things. Nor the District Plan. What the hell is a Digital Strategy and why is it perched on the front page?

    If I’m going to contact Council it’s because: my rubbish hasn’t been picked up, there’s a dog rummaging through my uncollected rubbish, my neighbour is having a party to celebrate No Rubbish Collection Day, I don’t know when the tip shuts so that I can dump my dog chewed uncollected rubbish, or I want to know if there are any roadworks or weather issues between me and the landfill site.

    If the rubbish truck comes on time, I don’t need to contact Council at all. And that’s the way it should be, in my view. I would like to see a lot of the “stocking filler” links filed away from the front screen of the website.

    The first page should be like opening the First Aid cabinet. The most common concerns should be there with big buttons, emergency phone call numbers, and that’s about it. Let those people with the time and interest burrow deeper into the site for minutes, agendas, strategies and reports.

    Simplify the process and people will use it more. Having a page full of links makes me go to the ORC site instead for weather information. Just a few thoughts to a service provider from an end user.

    • Elizabeth

      Sean may indeed love you for this headsup, Phil.
      Paul, Sean and I met today to have what I hope will be one of many chats. Sean definitely wants to hear from end users of the website.

      I keep thinking about the DCC ‘eftpos’ machines planned – wasn’t Murray Douglas pushing those? I liked the concept as far as events information, committee meeting dates, roaming dogs, illegal signage reporting went… but hadn’t gone too far down the track of thinking it necessary to wound myself daily in passing a machine to discern the rates impact.

      Nowadays, DCC would tie this sort of system to instant-cash-take from parking and jaywalking misdemeanours, visitor taxes, oh, and things like gas emissions from breathing, to pay for the stadium – or work it through free roaming iPhones and iPads. Options for tax gathering are endless!

      I’m wary of the collective assertion that every DCC fee and charge hike goes to paying for the stadium (dead or alive), lest it becomes self-fulfilling.

      The future is coming to get us.

  9. Phil

    In hindsight I may have been SLIGHTLY on the grizzly side yesterday, but I’m sure you get the point.

    I think it’s important to remember that DCC is also a social service provider to many people in the community. That’s part of its core business. There are many elderly people who come into the DCC offices every fortnight to pay their housing rental. They could do so through a direct bank debit, but it is a reason to leave their home and interact with other people. It’s a very important social service, and important that DCC continues to offer this. The technology advances are great, however, and I’m not downplaying those.

    I’m pretty sure it was in Murray’s term that they built those Space Invader type computer terminals. There was one that sat in the staff cafeteria for a few years, and also one in the foyer of the I.T. department. Nice idea, but a solution that was far greater than the problem.

  10. Elizabeth

    DCC. You using social media yet??????????????????

    ### ODT Online Sat, 8 Jan 2011
    Boil water notice upsets
    By Debbie Porteous
    Complaints about the notification of residents about a boil water notice that will be in place in Mosgiel for at least another two days has prompted officials to consider establishing a database of those who want to be personally notified if the same problem happens again.
    Read more

    Related Post:
    16.6.10 Social media is coming at you DCC

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