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Best Practices for Local Governments in Managing Disruptions Caused by Coronavirus

Connecticut’s cities and towns, along with every other sector of the state, have been thrust into the great unknown amid the extraordinary amount of disruption caused by the global outbreak of COVID-19.

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Connecticut’s cities and towns, along with every other sector of the state, have been thrust into the great unknown amid the extraordinary amount of disruption caused by the global outbreak of COVID-19.

Connecticut’s cities and towns, along with every other sector of the state, have been thrust into the great unknown amid the extraordinary amount of disruption caused by the global outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease. But like those industries in the private sector, there are a number of steps municipalities can take to ensure they are still providing vital services to the citizens they serve.

A number of town services have been altered for the time being—schools have shifted to virtual learning, senior centers and libraries have closed, Town Hall-based activities have been restricted and live public meetings have ceased. In order to keep municipal services operational, there are three core areas on which cities and towns can focus to keep things running as smoothly as possible, even amidst the unprecedented circumstances.

  1. Ensuring the flow of necessary information
  2. Using technological alternatives to in-person services and meetings
  3. Being hyper-vigilant to possible scams and cyber attacks

Communication Strategies

Much like the business world, open communication channels are essential with key audiences, which in this case means primarily employees and town citizens. Many municipal workers, with teachers and school personnel making up the largest number, are currently adapting to working offsite and distance learning, and many of them have questions as to what their new responsibilities are and how they can best perform them. Having open lines of communication with them—through conference calls, Google-based video chats and a consistent stream of texts and emails—allows employers to create a steady flow of pertinent information. This is essential at a time like this, when updates often come quickly and in real-time.

The same applies to municipalities maintaining open lines of communications with their citizens. There are tools that exist to maintain seamless communication despite limited in-person access—Everbridge and AlertMedia are emergency response programs used by many cities and towns which allow for the rapid sharing of information via telephone, text and email to an entire population at once. In a time of such uncertainty, these are ideal ways of ensuring people remain informed. Other more traditional modes of communication—such as letters, emails and public notices posted on municipal websites or on Town Hall doors—continue to provide value as well; people prefer to receive information in many different ways, and local leaders need to be aware of that as they reach out.

The fact is there are numerous questions employees and residents alike will have during this time—what this means to employee pensions, what services are being closed and which ones remain open, what services are available online and more. The key is getting the right information out to people in a timely manner, and with modern technology, there are simple ways for cities and towns to do it.

Remote Working Technologies

While in-person public meetings are off-limits for the time being, there are still ways for municipal functions to remain ongoing. Much like schools have created policies for “virtual learning,” the ability for local board and commissions to meet digitally and conduct regular town business has never been easier. Through remote access programs such as Zoom and Skype, cities and towns can continue their day to day operations without missing a beat, and these meetings can be archived for public viewing, just as regular meetings can. It is a much better approach to utilize these technological advancements rather than postpone or cancel meetings, and it will keep the citizenry much better informed at a critical time as well.

CT Executive Order 71

In the recently issued Executive Order 71, Governor Lamont provided helpful guidance for cities and towns regarding a number of essential upcoming functions, including the adoption of town and school budgets, extending tax and assessment deadlines, suspension of in-person filing requirements and waivers of certain penalties. A complete synopsis of Executive Order 71 is available here and should be utilized by all Connecticut municipalities.

Cyber Security and COVID-19 Scams

Lastly, municipal officials need to be aware of cyber threats and scams that have popped up in recent days, attempting to take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis and cause harm through phishing scams and other cyber attacks. One example is a report of a scam promising federal relief money immediately if people simply call a number and provide debit or credit card information, while there are other reports from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about scams promoting fake coronavirus cures, offering fake test kits, sending hoax text messages and generally taking advantage of fears caused by the pandemic.

Municipal employees need to practice an extra level of prudence before clicking on links or opening emails from unknown sources—sometimes these scams seem factual, but once they are clicked on they can do a large amount of damage and potential RANSOMWARE.

This is obviously an extraordinary time for the state’s municipalities, but with an additional focus on communication, workforce adaptability and cyber security, cities and towns will be able to not only endure it, but to maintain a level of service that gives their residents the peace of mind they need at a time like this.

 

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