In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, the H1N1 (swine flu) virus has taken over our area. The school district I work for was the first in the state, and the country, to shut down because of the virus.
You would think I’d be relaxing poolside with a cold one in my hand, but you’d be thinking wrong.
Being part of the tech staff means that you get to help in spreading the word when there’s an emergency. I have become, in this past week, part of the PR team for our district.
Now understand, I’m not complaining one bit. I’m actually enjoying the challenge this change in routine has brought on. I’m able to use my understanding of the tools out there to help our district spread the word about anything and everything related to this closure.
It started on Sunday, when I got a call from my boss. “The Superintendent wants to do a podcast,” he said, “and was wondering if you could come up and help her do it.”
I had heard Saturday that we’d be closing one high school, but on Sunday, it all changed when the Department of State Health Services shut down our entire district. Word needed to get out quickly, and in as many ways as possible. We’d updated the web site, and put out an auto-call, but there were more ways to get the message out, so I opened up my arsenal and started asking permission.
The two things that we’ve done this week, based on my suggestion, was to start a Twitter account for the district, and to live stream the Superintendent’s daily press briefings on UStream. Sunday and early Monday, I was tweeting district updates on my own twitter account and on Facebook, but it got to be a bit much, and I didn’t want “official” word coming from me. I wanted it to be something that people could look at and say, “Yes, this belongs to the district.” So up went the district’s twitter account. In just over 48 hours, we’ve gained almost 100 followers, including several of the local news outlets and reporters. Several of the names I recognized as district teachers (and I was surprised by how many of them are on twitter), and several more are students – it’s easy to tell the students by their user names or profiles.
The UStream of the press briefing got its first trial today. While the audio was off a bit, I think if the Superintendent just speaks up a little it will be fine. Unfortunately, UStream is having recording issues, so there was no way for us to have it available for playback. We embedded the stream on the district home page for the duration of the press briefing, and I also put the URL for the UStream page on Twitter. At one point, we had about 20 people watching, which was way more than I expected. Only one question came in via Twitter, although I expect more tomorrow.
Every evening, I get the audio for the podcast from the Superintendent, edit for about 20-30 minutes and post it to the district home page, as well as her podcast page. If she sends me the transcript of the podcast, I post that to her blog page as well.
Luckily, our web site has been holding up incredibly well under the strain. Before this week, our normal, weekday average was 2500 hits per day, and that’s with students in the district opening the web page any time they open a browser.
On Saturday, we had almost 4000 hits. Sunday, we broke 10,000. We had another 10,000 Monday, and dipped to 7300 yesterday, but as of this posting, we’re at 11,500 and will probably hit 12,000 before midnight this evening.
Our district has gotten national attention because of this outbreak, and I hope that the information we’re putting out has been able to keep people informed. We’re doing as much as we can, as best as we can. Our Superintendent has been doing an outstanding job, and has been interviewed by major news outlets all over the country, from the Wall Street Journal to NPR. And every night, before she goes home for the day, she sits down and records audio for me to edit for the podcast. With everything else on her plate, I’m proud of her for sticking with it.
Hopefully, when all of this is over with, we’ll continue to put our information out there using Web 2.0 tools. Hopefully, this this a turning point for our district in information distribution!