HAMDEN, CT — Municipal leaders are turning to social media more and more these days to directly communicate with constituents. One of those who is best at it is Hamden Mayor Curt Leng, who takes to Facebook generally several times a day to talk issues with Hamdenites.
Leng’s use of social media, particularly Facebook, was a critical component of Hamden’s response to the powerful storm that pounded Connecticut late on the afternoon of May 15.
Hamden was one of the hardest hit towns in the state. In fact it was one of the few sites that the National Weather Service confirmed an EF1 tornado touched down.
An EF1 tornado means sustained winds of more than 110 miles per hour.
Thousands of people were without power in Hamden during the immediate hours and days after the storm, hundreds of trees were knocked down, roads and schools were closed for days.
With so many without electricity, Leng did what he has become so good at — communicate via social media.
“I’ve found it a really powerful tool to communicate, especially during storm events and power outages,” Leng said in a recent interview, taking a short break from his computer to talk about his use of the tool.
In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, Leng was on Facebook 24-7, posting scores of updates on road closings, power outages, school closings, emergency center openings, police and fire updates, etc.
Here is an example of one of his posts — five hours after the tornado hit on Tuesday night, May 15th.
“MAYOR’S STORM RESPONSE UPDATE: (I’ll send these out when I can go keep people informed of the clean up and make safe issues we’re working to address and I hope that they are helpful.)
“#Hamden Public Works, Fire and Police Services are working hard to address medical and other public safety needs due to serious damage delivered by what was a very powerful storm. This is an all hands on deck situation and the Town Emergency Storm Response Team is handling it with the seriousness it deserves.
“Many roads remain blocked and will unfortunately remain that way until United Illuminating can send additional “Make Safe” crews required to ensure trees entangled with wires are deactivated and power is shut off. We have Public Works crews ready to team with each and every crew UI can send the Town’s way. Residents: please be extremely cautious and don’t touch or go near any wire or tree with potentially live wires entangled in them,
“UI is in Town working to do this on one major street now and we’re hoping that the additional crews we’re pleading for will be sent.
“UI is working to restore power and began this work really promptly — several crews are in Hamden focused on this important function as well.
“More to come & please stay safe.”
Leng’s posts were generally followed by lots of comments, shares, and thank you messages for the updates from Hamden residents.
In the first few days after the tornado hit, Leng was posting updates continually, dozens a day; they’ve slowed a bit two weeks after the storm hit, but he still takes to social media a few times a day to update residents on storm recovery efforts.
A fan of Leng’s social media activities is Connecticut Conference of Municipalities spokesperson Kevin Maloney.
“Mayor Leng is a progressive and model user of social media to keep his citizenry informed and engaged on key issues,” Maloney said.
“His use of social media and his drive to keep Hamden residents informed and up to date in real time in the first hours and then days following the tornado played a key role in affected residents quickly starting the recovery process and people knowing that Hamden’s government was there for them,” Maloney added.
Another fan of Leng’s social media communication skills is SeeClickFix co-founder and CEO Ben Berkowitz.
“I followed Curt on Facebook and Instagram,” Berkowitz said. “I always know a lot about what’s going on in Hamden, about the budget issues, school issues, now with the storm issues,” said Berkowitz.
Hamden also recently signed up as a SeeClickFix customer — one of several communities in the state that uses the social media site as part of its citizen outreach.
SeeClickFix allows users to report non-emergency problems from downed trees to clogged sewers to graffiti, potholes, or even chronic speeding. They can use either the mobile app or a desktop web browser. Local officials monitor the site and receive notifications in order to respond to problems reported, and also directly to the person reporting.
“Truthfully I sometimes feel I know more about issues in Hamden than I do in my own city of New Haven, because of Curt’s use of social media to keep people posted on what’s happening,” Berkowitz said.
It’s good see an elected official lead by example, to be so transparent in his communications,” Berkowitz said. “He doesn’t use social media as a hype machine. He uses it to inform.”
While electricity has been restored to all in town, and schools and roads are open, Hamden is still dealing with the tornado’s aftermath. For instance, still closed is Sleeping Giant State Park, which had dozens of trees shorn by the storm.
Those looking for news on the park’s re-opening and other developments know where to turn for updates.