Clinton Township growing digital alert system, neighborhood program

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 9, 2018

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Worried about traffic? Is a threatening storm affecting your weekend plans? Is a gunman on the loose in your neighborhood? You will know if you’re on Nixle.

Approximately 3 1/2 years ago, Clinton Township began using the Everbridge Nixle emergency alert system to warn residents of different occurrences taking place in the community. In December 2016, the Board of Trustees approved an upgrade to the system via an annual fee.

The way it works is simple: Residents can opt in to the service by texting their ZIP code to 888777. The service is free to use aside from standard smartphone data rates.

When the township upgraded a little more than a year ago, 1,134 individuals were signed up for Nixle. As of Dec. 7, 2017, that number climbed to 2,187 users — a 66 percent increase.

“There was a big bump right after we upgraded, which also happened to coincide with the sinkhole and interceptor drain emergency,” Clinton Township Deputy Supervisor Liz Vogel said at the township’s Dec. 18 board meeting.

Multiple users can log in to the system to send alerts, with iPhone and Android apps existing to make life easier for those receiving the alerts. Messages can be forwarded, increasing the social media footprint.

“It also provides continuity of communication, because we know emergencies don’t always happen 8:30 to 4:30, Monday through Friday,” she said.

As of Dec. 18, the township had issued 91 advisory-based messages, or approximately two messages per month, in the three-plus years of using the service. The message breakdown is as follows: 37 percent for traffic-related incidents, such as car accidents or road closures; 19 percent for safety or information, such as letting residents know about parking options during the annual fireworks event; 12 percent for weather-related activity; 11 percent for major events, such as the sewer interceptor collapse or the major flooding episode of August 2014; 10 percent for power outages; 8 percent for police activity, like a missing child or a person of interest; and 3 percent for water main breaks.

As a way of attracting even more subscribers and increasing residential communication, Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo suggested to Vogel that the township begin utilizing the Nextdoor social networking service.

That free program, which is accessible via phone or computer, has been used for the past nine months. It narrows down responses based on community borders, so perhaps residents of a particular neighborhood subdivision may want to communicate, while not including the rest of the municipality.

As a municipal partner, the township can issue messages to residents who use the service — or even residents in particular neighborhoods — without seeing private communication between neighbors.

There are 52 distinct neighborhoods that were created by township residents, with residents naming the neighborhoods. The most active neighborhoods are 15-16 Mile Road Clintondale, with 439 users; the Clinton Township-Fraser Schools neighborhood, with 433 users; and the Smokler-Clinton neighborhood, with 394 users. 

Vogel sends messages on behalf of individuals or departments on Nextdoor, with residents being able to see her name and title. On Nixle, authority is given to police officers, firefighters, the supervisor or the public services director.

“Times are changing, and people really want government to reach out rather than just be that bulletin board that holds information,” Trustee Mike Keys said. “They really want to find different avenues to connect to the government.”

In 2018, Vogel hopes to increase Nixle subscriptions by 1,000 users, while simultaneously building awareness through social media and by increasing personnel training on how to send messages.

She sees the numbers reaching new heights every day.

“I wanted to make sure we increased awareness and got people to opt in to receive our messages. … There’s still room to grow,” Vogel said.

To sign up for Nextdoor, visit www.nextdoor.com.