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Story from the Field

Name of Health Department/Agency: El Paso County Department of Health and Environment
State: CO
Date Added: 12/15/2009
Themes: Communications - General H1N1
Issue Summary: New Media to supplement H1N1 flu news coverage
Description of Issue(s):

The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment, located in Colorado Springs, CO, has a population size of nearly 600,000 in both urban and rural areas. In addition to developing a media management plan for each clinic held at different locations in the community and using traditional efforts related to maximizing earned (free) media coverage to promote H1N1 clinics and provide timely updates from the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment to area residents we used the following tools to get information to the public:

Actions taken to address the issue(s): Using Twitter
We developed the idea of using Twitter to communicate information and updates about community H1N1 flu vaccination clinics the week before our first large-scale clinic. The theory was if many institutions and the media use Twitter to blast out immediate information in a timely manner, we should give it a try. We contacted local news media outlets to see if they would follow us on twitter. Most said it would be a perfect way to get preliminary information and updates to them.

The El Paso County Department of Health and Environment (EPCDHE) instituted the live Twitter account Thursday, Nov. 5. Test messages were sent to the media on Tuesday, Nov. 10, with good response. Three TV stations and two radio stations said they would follow the EPCDHE Twitter account for updates. Our use of Twitter paid off during the first Community H1N1 Flu Vaccination Clinic. The Health Department was not only able to give vital updates, but was able to correct some misinformation almost immediately. The first Tweets were sent during the first community H1N1 flu vaccination clinic. The first one at 9:45 a.m. informed the media that 1,500 people were already in line and the Health Department was prepared to give 3,000 shots.

An update was sent around 10:10 a.m. that approximately 320 vaccinations were already given.

We responded to erroneous reports that there was no more vaccine available at 10:23, saying the Health Department was assessing the supply and those reports were premature.

By 10:43 new information that the clinic is open with vaccine was sent out. Most media acknowledged the tweets and updated their Web sites with the new information.

We found we could send immediate updates on the approximate numbers of vaccinations given, and when clinics were concluded via Twitter, so news media could get these updates to the public through their Web sites, TV screen crawlers, live radio interviews, etc.

Twitter was used for all the other Community H1N1 Flu Vaccination Clinics in the same manner.

Department's Web site
We had remote access to make timely updates to the Department's Web site. All communications materials informed the public that all clinics are dependent on H1N1 flu vaccine supplies and are subject to change.

We handed out thank you cards for individuals who made the effort to attend a clinic, but vaccine supplies were all used. These thank you cards were in English and Spanish languages and provided additional information on where to find upcoming vaccination clinics.

YouTube Video
We developed an informative, timely video that shows what H1N1 vaccination clinics are all about. We used volunteers from the Crisis Communication Network to develop the video. The video will air on the Pikes Peak Library Channel Comcast Channel 17 and we encouraged community partners to place a link on their Web sites to this video or to the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment's Web site at www.elpasocountyhealth.org. The link to the video is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ml3cGPIFEA8. We also asked community partners who have the ability to air this video on their TV stations to do so.

Crisis Communication Network (CCN)
We've been working with many public information/affairs (PIO/POA) representatives from the military, hospitals, school districts, law enforcement and more through a Joint Information System (JIS). We've developed a plan with the purpose of guiding the Colorado Springs Crisis Communications Network (CCN) in coordinating, preparing for and responding to the 2009/10 H1N1 flu pandemic in the Pikes Peak Region. This plan identifies the objectives, approach and concepts for communicating credible pandemic flu information to the public in efforts to limit and reduce the impact of the novel H1N1 virus in our communities, particularly on those who are at the highest risk of developing complications. PIOs from school districts have been tremendously helpful in sending information about vaccine safety and H1N1 clinic updates to their communities through timely electronic alerts and in student packets send home to parents and caretakers. We have relying on PIOs working for agencies that serve underserved populations to help get the H1N1 information to their stakeholders.

Outcomes that resulted from actions taken: We achieved a saturation of media coverage before, during and after each community clinic. The news media outlets complimented the Health Department for running very well organized events that met every one of their needs. They also felt like they got the most immediate information possible.

See attached slideshow.

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