Mayor’s Office Defends Disaster Tweets

by admin on July 12, 2011

In the midst of a massive water main break Monday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer once again tweeted information that was more optimistic than accurate when he announced service would be back to normal by Tuesday morning.

Downtown employees and several businesses were still struggling to deal with the lack of adequate water pressure and possible contamination.

Last night, a 48-inch water main broke on the University of Louisville campus and Metro Government issued a water boil advisory in the central part of the city that is expected to remain in effect until 8 p.m. The mayor sent out alerts during the crisis through his official Twitter account that were re-posted by several new outlets—including WFPL— that told residents the situation would be cleared up the next day.

“Downtown companies and workers should have no issues tomorrow due to water main break,” Fischer wrote last night. “Service should be back to normal overnight.”

But Humana Inc. told 9,000 workers to stay home Tuesday and other downtown businesses either closed or were seriously affected by the poor water pressure.

Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter says the mayor received the information in real time from water company officials, but the situation changed overnight.

“The nature of social media is ever changing and you’ll notice that the minute that we learned this morning there were issues the mayor’s Facebook was updated before the media was to tell folks about Humana and other situations,” he says.

City officials don’t know what caused the massive line to break, but the water company is currently investigating the cause.

The mayor’s social networking updates raise a question about the usefulness and accuracy of those unfiltered alerts and whether the motivation is informing citizens or providing PR for public officials.

Fischer was previously criticized for telling his Twitter followers there was “relatively minor damage” during a severe thunderstorm that resulted in four tornadoes hitting the city. Significant damage was reported at Churchill Downs, Papa Johns Stadium and several other businesses once all storm lines subsided.

Acknowledging the mistake to followers, Fischer apologized for the premature instant message but critics hammered the mayor’s tendency to give a positive spin on situations before they’ve reached their conclusion.

Earlier today, frustrated residents took to the mayor’s page to vent and mentioned the previous messages in their criticism. The administration, however, defends the messages as a valuable tool to inform residents about emergency situations as they unfold though the mayor’s Twitter account does present a Catch-22.

“I think the vast majority of citizens who are on the mayor’s Facebook page or Twitter account enjoy it. They like getting information real time,” says Poynter. “The media criticizes us when we get information out there in real time, but sometimes changes. But then when we don’t get the information out there quickly we get criticized…if we had done nothing on the mayor’s Facebook page last night to alert the public about the water main break I’m sure I’d be getting a phone call from you saying ‘why did the mayor not talk about the water main break last night.'”

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