By Trevor Busch
Town council is examining the implementation of a new mass communication app for the community, but has requested further information about the idea before issuing their approval.
Administration was approached recently by the Municipal District of Taber regarding a partnership for the mass communication app. The M.D. is migrating their website to a company called All Net whose product suite includes a connect app. The app is able to be branded and launched however the customer sees fit, and the M.D. is proposing taking a regional approach so residents in the entire region can benefit from the technology.
The Connect Program App can be used to alert citizens to crimes, fire bans, emergencies, road construction, service interruptions, and news and events.
“This app is an opportunity to take a regional approach to notifications, particularly when that information deals with emergencies,” stated administration in their background to the decision at council’s Aug. 19 meeting. “As many municipalities have found with large-scale emergencies (wildfires, flooding, etc.), a one-stop shop for communications that has regional backing is invaluable for informing residents. With the built-in capabilities of this app to connect with the federal Alert Ready System, there won’t be excessive redundancy created where multiple channels have to be updated during an emergency.”
According to All-Net’s website, the app provides the ability to “easily broadcast information on a wide variety of platforms from one central portal…to manage and disseminate messages to all your residents via email, smartphone apps, text messages, social media, and voice phone lines.” It also contains the ability to create a direct feed into Canada’s national emergency alerting system (Alert Ready).
Currently, the Barrhead and Area Regional Crime Coalition (BARCC) utilizes this app in a regional context. Theirs is a “regional partnership between the County of Barrhead, the Town of Barrhead, Woodlands County, the RCMP and Barrhead & District Rural Crime Watch Association to address crime.” On the BARCC website, they outline a success story where a suspect in a string of robberies was apprehended following a public notification using the notification system. The public received real-time information through the app further shared by texts and social media, and then proceeded to call in with real-time sightings, leading to a successful apprehension.
“This app is another method the Town of Taber can use to connect with residents both in our community and outside of it,” continued administration. “Our analytics show that in the last 90 days, 68.2 per cent of users accessed the town’s website on a mobile device (phone or tablet). Therefore, adding another mobile-reactive way for users to access town (and regional) information will help disseminate town information in a way our users have demonstrated they prefer. The regionalism of this initiative also opens opportunities for further collaboration on information for tourism, economic development, and much more. The app is able to be downloaded by anyone from anywhere, which helps promote our community and our region to anyone who wants to access this information.”
Other Albertan communities listed on All-Net’s website as clients for this type of app include
Clearwater County and Cardston County.
The MD of Taber is proposing regionally sharing the costs divided by population. For the total annual cost of $7,990, the cost breakdown would be as M.D. of Taber (Pop. 7173, 40.4 per cent) $3,227.96; Town of Taber (Pop. 8428, 47.4 per cent) $3,787.26; Town of Vauxhall (Pop. 1222, 6.9 per cent) $551.31; and the Village of Barnwell (Pop. 947, 5.3 per cent) $423.47.
Administration noted It would take staff time to help implement the app and coordinate with the other interested municipalities in regards to branding. Administrative staff will also be responsible for adding information content to the app and receiving training. This would be done in conjunction with administration’s current role of adding
information content to the website, social media, and other communications channels.
“I’m wondering if we have enough information to proceed with a motion at this time,” said Coun. Joe Strojwas on Aug. 19. “This is another app, another way to communicate, and there’s already lots of them out there. At this point, without more information, I can’t support this program. I think we should table it for further information to get input from the fire department, and the police department and emergency services.”
Following discussion, council voted 5-2 to table the decision. Councillors Mark Garner and Garth Bekkering opposed the motion.