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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It *was* seagull poop -- now get out your wallet

The question we posed last night was answered later this morning -- yes, the E. coli that was detected in a Portland reservoir over Thanksgiving weekend was indeed a nonpathogenic strain, probably from seagull excrement.

And yes, the city is going to use this incident as an excuse to blow more money on improvements of questionable value. From the official press release:

The Portland Water Bureau, along with the Portland Office of Emergency Management and the Bureau of Technology Services is finalizing a Request for Proposal that should be available December 28th providing vendors the opportunity bid on supplying the city with a state‐of‐the‐art city‐wide emergency alert and call out system that will enable city leaders to inform the public of emergencies such as the recent reservoir contamination event. The system will be robust and able to contact the public, businesses and organizations through a variety of methods including land lines, cell phones, email, pagers, text messages, VOIP, etc.
Don't we still have the "Emergency Broadcast System," using television and radio? Are there people in Portland who can't be informed by those means, but who are somehow going to pick up a Skype phone call?

Birds have been pooping in the reservoirs for a century, but now all of a sudden the situation is going to require tens of millions of dollars -- and that's just to tell you there's a problem, not to fix it or prevent it.

Meanwhile, just-released surveillance photos taken near the reservoir the day before Thanksgiving shed new light on how the contamination occurred. More power to ya, pal.

Comments (19)

Hey, they are FLUSH with money now, they need to blow it on a new high-tech social media solution.

PWB is Randy's new profit center since BDS dive-bombed.

I love the filename for that picture, but I have to say that I don't know how those people know it's a randy seagull. All I see are two excessively loud, flighty characters with the attention spans of hypercaffeinated five-year-olds.

Jack, thanks for posting the news release in its entirety - because as we know, not everyone watches tv news or listens to the radio these days. I learned about the boil water / e-coli event when I was far, far away in California - via Twitter.

And though the city did send out info via the news media, we got hammered for not utilizing other methods of communication, including the now not so new "new media."

We gotta keep improving.

Ok, fire away. I am now ready to take the hits.

-Sarah Bott

"the city did send out info via the news media"


I have to disagree, your blog mistress was out of town on vacation and had to drive back into to town 3 days later to update the new social media. I hate to say this, but we have an IT person that is on call 24/7, supposedly like Ms Day-Burget and he can do updates remotely.

My main gripe is that this new media is more propaganda than substance. It confuses quantity with quality of info.

we got hammered for not utilizing other methods of communication, including the now not so new "new media."

"hammered" by whom? I'm often curious when there's a flurry of concern over lack of information by people addicted to "information" via "new media".

In other words, it seems to me that not "tweeting" a public announcement doesn't equal bad service--it just means that the minority spending most of their time addicted to content streams want more content. Naturally, they'll "hammer" at any opportunity where their latest faddish choice of delivery isn't met.

I'm not opposed to the use of tools, but I've been around the block enough to see that the city spends far too much time chasing fads and making work for itself.

Please: drop the Twitter. Step away from the Facebook. Stop blogging about blogs, staff recipes, neologism contests,limerick contests, haiku contests, tank naming contests, other naming contests, song writing contests, video contests, bumper sticker contests--you know what? Just stop the ridiculous contests altogether.

And after you step away from this, turn around, put on the public's shoes, and take a hard look: most of what you're doing is mocked because it's vapid, and more simply, tax and rate payers have to pay for it.

All, your input is just as valid as everyone else's input.

As evidenced by the discussion going on here on Jack's blog, which is considered "new media," we do get information if a variety of ways.

Again - the information about the boil water notice was broadcast to the news media: newspapers, radio, and television. However, we did receive feedback from many people that they wanted and expected to hear from us in other ways.

This is an ongoing discussion within not just the Water Bureau but the entire City with regards to how we provide emergency notifications. If you've got concrete ideas, we want to hear them.

Sorry you don't like the contests. Ouch - some of those were my ideas (limerick, neologism.) I'm not a water scientist or utility worker, so sometimes the topics at hand get a little, er, dry.

--Sarah Bott
(503) 823-7637

Sorry you don't like the contests.

It's a lot more people than "me", Sarah. Unfortunately, lots of those people don't earnestly check Twitter/Facebook/blog posts every few hours (or even have them), so they're not easy to reach using "new media".

Does this make sense to you? That the majority of your customers (yes, likely the majority) don't care, don't want, and don't need this stuff--and especially don't want to pay your salary (via rates, fees and taxes) to create it? It's not a neo-luddite ideology--it's just a simple reality.


I hear you loud and clear. Duly noted.


However, we did receive feedback from many people that they wanted and expected to hear from us in other ways.

How many?

If you've got concrete ideas, we want to hear them.

Concrete Idea #1
My request to "step away from the Twitter", etc. was a sincere one, and a concrete idea. Retire the entertainment blog, the Twitter, the Facebook, all or most of it.

Concrete Idea #2
Little of the information the Water Bureau disseminates is urgent or critical. Put that 98% in an easily accessible electronic location and publish its location.

Concrete Idea #3
Make sure that 98% of information pertains to customer service and the provision of water services. That means drop the entertainment content, the jokes, the wedding announcements, the staff recipes--all of it.

Concrete Idea #4
For the 1-2% of Water Bureau information that is urgent or critical, do two things: use news outlets, and offer an option to be notified electronically. No, that doesn't necessarily mean Twitter or social networking sites--it just means an e-mail or automated phone call.

Some of this, of course, the bureau already does.

ecohuman et al.,

Here is a blog that had some interesting things to say, also, about communications surrounding the event.

-Sarah Bott

Here is a blog that had some interesting things to say, also, about communications surrounding the event.

Actually, it's a blog post complaining that the Water Bureau didn't Twitter/Facebook/etc. about the recent e.coli test results. Mainly, the reader comments are a handful of people congratulating each other on their affirmation of the "crucial need" for more Twitter/Facebook/etc.

I think this reader comment there sums up a lot of what I'm finding wrong with it all:

To that end, anyplace and everyplace online that can be updated with very little technical knowledge or time commitment should be utilized in a crisis. More information, more frequently updated, is a good thing!

She's wrong, and here's why--information for its own sake is *never* "a good thing". That sort of strategy--carpet bombing the public for the sake of carpet bombing the public--is nonsense.

What people want from a city bureau is service and a minimum of interruption or off-topic communication. period. For those that crave more Twitter/Facebook/etc., *no* amount of information will be enough--as in the commenter's statement above.

And the gaping hole in the logic of that post? the writer never stops to ask "did customers generally get the information they needed about the water?" Instead, he complains about "not enough social media" and "not enough 24/7 social media support".

Good grief.

And more simply--the e.coli incident was not a "crisis". What really happened was this: The Water Bureau created the crisis by communicating poorly about the implications of the e.coli detection, and fecal coliforms in general.

"If you've got concrete ideas, we want to hear them."

Instead of contests, why not explain to us why we need to raise water rates? Give details on the budget and PURB hearings and feedback.

For god's sake, just one small smidgen of customer service on things that are useful and acutally affect the non-sticker-collectors.

I mean the big things NEVER get mentioned and we get these trifling contests which are very poor justification for a blog-mistress that prob costs us $100K a year.

When you need to get the word out, using all comms channels available makes sense. You need as much redundancy as possible to ensure the word gets out to as many people as possible.

I heard about the boil-water alert via Twitter & FB. I would not have known otherwise. I don't watch much TV or listen to much radio (beyond OPB on the weekends).

The beauty of Twitter and Facebook is that it isn't a dead-end broadcast - people who receive info this way are quick to ripple that info into their community. They re-broadcast the message quickly and efficiently.

Portland government is very active on Social Media and their participation in Twitter & FB has increased my engagement with city & county gov't and events.

An Emergency Alert system where people sign up to receive text or email messages is also a great idea and I would sign up for it. It is expensive for sure. But so is the cost of not having a system in place for when a real crisis hits.

Lastly, you bet I get my "information" via "new media"! Good information flows very nicely using new media. It's not a fad although not everyone uses it. But it is a valuable tool that should not be excluded.

Is there anybody who didn't get the message about the boil-water alert? Before we spend zillions on another Sam-Rand Twins boondoggle, how about establishing that there's a need?

When you need to get the word out, using all comms channels available makes sense. You need as much redundancy as possible to ensure the word gets out to as many people as possible.

You're wrong, for a variety of reasons--chiefly because you don't seem to know what "redundant" means. And, the majority of adults do not Twitter or Facebook. Twitter's admitted, for example, that 90% of its content is generated by 10% of its users, and the rest are mainly "dead" accounts set up and then abandoned.

An Emergency Alert system where people sign up to receive text or email messages is also a great idea and I would sign up for it. It is expensive for sure. But so is the cost of not having a system in place for when a real crisis hits.

When a "real" crisis hits, there are several ways, established for decades, for broadcast the information. None of them are Twitter or Facebook. Or did you not realize that there were "crises" before Twitter/Facebook/etc., and somehow, people managed to get information?

I heard about the boil-water alert via Twitter & FB. I would not have known otherwise.

Interesting, because you're required to have an e-mail address to have both services, and I'm sure you have a telephone that you use daily and often. Why can't the bureau send you an e-mail or automated phone message?

The beauty of Twitter and Facebook is that it isn't a dead-end broadcast - people who receive info this way are quick to ripple that info into their community. They re-broadcast the message quickly and efficiently.

90% of "Twitter" content is generated by 10% of its users talking to each other. Twitter's even admitted it. Look it up. And a group of earnest "social media" users talking to each other while sitting at their computers (or phones) isn't the vast majority of humans who don't, in fact, maintain an obsessive-compulsive connection to information.

And if the majority of humans don't get their "crisis" information that way, why must I pay fees just so *you* can get a Twitter feed?

And let's be clear--*there was no crisis*. There was, in fact, no need to boil water--it was the Water Bureau practicing extreme cya because it poorly communicated about the implications of the e.coli (i.e., not much at all).

And the truth is, this specious argument about "social media" is utter bull when applied to other "crises", for example. Real emergency information systems don't rely on Internet connections--they use what's first most reliable, then most ubiquitous. When power fails, the poor saps huddled around their dark computer screens would then be clueless, I suppose.

People claiming to rely solely on something like Twitter or Facebook for their "information" are being disingenuine--that information originates elsewhere, and "social media" lives parasitically upon it. That tiny minority (and yes, folks, it *is* a tiny minority) relying on these services for meaningful information seem unable to realize that mainly their part of an insular community that spends most of its time regurgitating meaningless pap.

But maybe the Water Bureau could have a "social media" contest to see what twitter users think? That would be a good use of my service fees.

I doubt this was the first time a seagull pooped in a reservoir. How Many would it take to get a positive reading? Now that information would make a lively twitter.


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