Sunday, October 28, 2012

Editorial: DC's Websites Get an F for Emergency Information

When it comes to getting emergency information to DC residents, the District of Columbia Government's websites fail.

As we prepare for Hurricane Sandy, take a look at the DC government's main website, You'll see a slide show of Mayor Gray, with numerous self-promoting articles about our mayor. There are a few links to general information about Hurricane Sandy off to the side, but these links lead to out-of-date and mostly useless information, including a press release from Saturday with the headline, "Mayor Gray, Public Safety Officials and Other District Leaders to Brief Media on Preparations for Hurricane Sandy Tomorrow."

City agency websites don't do any better. The Department of Transportation's website,, leads with this headline, "DDOT is adding paint to make bike lanes more visible." The Department of Public Works website,, is just as useless. There's no information about where the DC government is giving out sandbags and no information about trash pickup during the storm.  The most recent headline on DPW's website is "DPW to Observe Columbus Day, Mon., Oct. 8." When DPW changed the location today, Sunday, for sandbag pickup to Coolidge High School (6315 5th Street, NW from 10am to 6pm), you didn't see that announcement on their website. The District of Columbia's Homeland Security and Emergency Management's Agency's website,, is also pathetic when it comes to providing information that's actually useful during a current emergency. (WMATA's website,, is better and actually tells you what is happening with Metro during Hurricane Sandy.)

The DC government encourages people to follow their various agencies on Twitter for up-to-date information, but we shouldn't have to follow a half dozen DC government agencies in the hope of seeing important information, before that 140 character announcement is pushed out of view by other tweets.  Even if you follow a city agency on Twitter, that doesn't mean that they'll be up-to-date with important or urgent information. It was Andrea Roane of WUSA-TV, Channel 9, who called DPW to ask if trash collection would be suspended on Monday and then tweeted about it. (Yes, trash and recycling pickups are suspended on Monday.) This is the kind of information that DC should put on its website during an emergency, rather than featuring glossy publicity photos of elected officials.

Compare DC's website to New York City's: Or to Wilmington, Delaware's: When it comes to getting emergency information to its citizens, those cities' websites aren't a useless embarrassment, as the District of Columbia's website is.  We should be able to go to to find out what's happening during an emergency. It's time for the DC government to fix this. It's not hard to do and it's very important.

After Sandy has passed there will be plenty of debate about what we could have done better. But there is no question that the city must make its websites better.

Bill Adler and Peggy Robin
Publishers, All Life Is Local

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