Civics Sunday: “Blackboard Connect” – Get Connected

On Friday, May 1, 2020, the emergency contact system was used to alert citizens to the Board of Health directive to wear face coverings in public.

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

If you did receive a phone, text, and / or e-mail on May 1st, you are enrolled and your contact information is up-to-date. You may stop reading this article now.

If you did not receive a message on May 1st, please read on to learn how to enroll or update your contact information to receive future alerts.

The following is from Civics Sunday: Are You Connected? Published on September 1, 2019:

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.

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?

Emergency 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 Cassidy 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.

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.

The Blackboard Connect icon on the Holliston website’s Home page

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 65% of the Town’s households and businesses received one or more of the most recent alerts.

Again, if you did not receive the important information related to our current emergency, please consider following the steps outlined here to Get Connected.

Chris Cain

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