Archive 2008 - 2019

Civics Sunday: Are You Connected?

by Chris Cain

During this past week, there was an emergency message sent out via home telephone from the HPD regarding a missing person.  Additionally, the Board of Health issued two notifications via e-mail, text, and / or pager regarding the mosquito infestation carrying dangerous viruses.

Many citizens did not receive these notifications because they have not yet enrolled in the Town's emergency contact system known as Blackboard Connect.

Fire Chief Michael Cassidy is also the Town's Emergency Management Director.  In that role he oversees the Blackboard Connect outbound messaging resource.  I visited with Chief Cassidy to get a deeper understanding of the purpose and functionality of this multi-faceted communication tool.

What is this system?

Blackboard Connect is one of several such software packages that can send out emergency or important notifications.  This tool can send messages via telephone, e-mail, text, and even pager.  One or more of these modes can be used depending on the situation.

Do citizens need to enroll in the Blackboard Connect system?

Yes.  In order to receive messages via a cell phone, e-mail, text, or pager the citizen needs to set up a profile on the Town's Blackboard Connect database.  Citizens can add more than one phone number and / or e-mail address to ensure that important messages catch up with them wherever they are.

All Holliston landline phones that are publicly available are preloaded by Blackboard Connect and updated on a monthly basis.  Many people do not use a landline (like the Publishers) so entering a mobile phone number becomes a must do in order to receive important messages.

When any of your contact information changes, it is necessary to go into Blackboard Connect and make the necessary updates.

What types of messages can be sent by Blackboard Connect?

Emeregeny messages - like this past week's missing person alert - go out to all contact information for Blackboard Connect subscribers (there is no subscription fee for users)

Outreach messages - like the recent mosquito alerts  - go out via the primary contact only

Who determines if it is an emergency or outreach message?

Fire Chief Cassiday makes that determination for all Town departments other than the Police Department.  Police Chief Stone makes this decision for his department.

Both Chiefs are very sensitive to the 'cry wolf' phenomenon and make the decision to activate the alert system using great care and judgment.

If you need to opt in to receive the alerts, can you opt out?

Yes.  Users may change their profile to remove (or change) their contact information.

What is the history of emergency alerts in Holliston?

Prior to January 2011, when Blackboard Connect was installed, the town had for many years no notification system, next it went to a pay as you go system.  In 2006, the Town installed a primitive alert system which was in place until Blackboard Connect arrived.  Chief Cassidy shared two examples from the 'not so good' old days.  In May of 2003 a water main broke in the center of town and there was no way to notify citizens of the problem.  In November 2005 a possible bacterial infection in the water supply activated the pay as you go system to get the word out across town.  

Since 2011 Blackboard Connect has been activated during Tropical Storm Irene and significant traffic and / or power disruptions.  Not only has Blackboard Connect alerted citizens to the initial problem, but it has broadcasted the 'all clear' when life returned to a more normal flow.

How does the system work?

Chief Cassidy was very careful not to give me the jargon of outbound messaging. 

After the decision to broadcast an emergency / important message the next step is to determine what medium(s) [phone, e-mail, text, pager] and level of contact info to use.  The system allows for the message to go out to all enrolled users - or a select segment of the population: a particular street, a neighborhood, or east / west Holliston - just by highlighting the distribution area on the Blackboard Connect map of Holliston.

Do the Holliston Public Schools use this system for notifications?

No.  The School System uses 'PowerSchool' for many aspects of academic life in Holliston.  When there is a school related alert it is sent out via 'BrightArrow' which is a feature of PowerSchool.  Like Blackboard Connect, parents need to 'opt-in' to Bright Arrow to receive alerts / updates via this messaging system.

How can I 'opt-in' / enroll in Blackboard Connect?

Shown below are the steps to take to enroll / update your data on Blackboard Connect. 

1) The journey starts by clicking on the Blackboard Connect icon in the lower right corner of the Town of Holliston homepage.

2) If you are already enrolled in Blackboard Connect, you enter your e-mail and password to proceed.  If you are NOT enrolled, click on the "Sign Me Up!" link.

3a) If you are a returning user, you will see your home page displaying recent messages.

3b) If you are a new user you will be prompted to add the contact information that you are comfortable placing in the database. 

If you are a returning user, the menu of available actions is seen below.  The drop down list appears by clicking on the arrow next to your user name.

4) Enter all relevant information in order to be ready when the next alert is broadcast!  Signing out is done by clicking on your user name and selecting 'Sign out' from the list.  Signing out does NOT mean that you will not receive future alerts.

Approximately one-third of the town's households are currently enrolled on the Blackboard Connect system.  

We hope that this week's Civics Sunday article will lead more citizens to enroll to be 'in the know' when important events and/or conditions are happening in our Town.

Comments (2)

Thank you for the information. We wondered why we were not receiving massages for a couple of years. I have now signed up for the present program, we will let you know how it works. Henry and Jackie Dellicker

Henry and Jackie Dellicker | 2019-09-04 13:24:23

Great article, well timed and helpful information. There is also an app (cause we all need another on our phones) that was helpful to update the notifications. ~thank you.

Brian Grace | 2019-09-01 07:43:51