By Rich Pollack
For years, the town has been offering Highland Beach residents the chance to sign up for email alerts on everything from boil-water notifications and traffic interruptions to news about day-to-day workings in the town.
As of the middle of last month there were few takers, with only about 338 names on the list — in a town with as many as 3,500 year-round residents.
But after hundreds who were not on the list discovered that it might have cost them the opportunity to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the number changed quickly.
Within a week, 211 new subscribers joined the email alert list — a 62% increase — and that number should grow as the town continues a full-court press to get people to sign up.
“A lot of folks have now reached out to us,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said. “They finally saw the value of receiving communications from the town.”
A town email late on the evening of Jan. 13 first notified residents they could sign up at 2 p.m. the following day for COVID-19 vaccines given in the town.
Reminders were sent out by email the following day.
Within less than two minutes, all the reservations were taken but the town soon heard from residents who said they were never notified that shots were available.
One of the reasons, they were told, was that they hadn’t signed up for town emails.
Although the town has several other means of communication, including a recently redesigned website, a cable television channel, a portable billboard and even a Code RED telephone alert system, Labadie believes the email list is the best way to get the word out.
“You can put it on the website, you can put it on TV, but nothing is going to be as quick as emailing residents directly,” he said. “Most people check their emails daily.”
Labadie said the town avoided using the Code RED alerts for the vaccine notification because it reserves that system for immediate public safety issues.
“We don’t want to overuse it,” he said.
With a renewed focus on ensuring it gets the word out, the town is in the middle of a campaign to mail to residents a card with information on how to sign up for the emails.
“It’s about the only way we can reach every household in town,” said Mayor Doug Hillman.
Hillman said the town is exploring other options to reach residents, possibly including the use of text messaging.
For now, however, the postcard and other constant reminders are the focus.
“Everything we send out will cover getting our residents to sign up,” he said.
Hillman and Labadie acknowledge that one stumbling block in getting more residents to sign up is that the list of email addresses is a public record and accessible to anyone on request. They point out, however, that residents could opt out of the alerts at any time.
In addition to providing alerts, the email system lets residents know about special events and meetings. A Manager’s Minute from Labadie is also sent out via email, and residents even received a notice at the end of the year about interruptions in trash pickup due to truck issues.
“It’s the quickest source for town-related news and information,” Labadie said. “If you want to know the latest and greatest about your town, this is it.” Ú
To sign up for email alerts, visit www.highlandbeach.us and click on Town Alert Center in the upper left corner of the home page.