COVID-19 Crisis Management: 3 Lessons County Officials Have Learned on the Front Lines

Michaela Sokol

Michaela Sokol

With over 3,000 counties throughout the US, county officials are at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. In an effort to help local county leaders navigate these uncharted territories, Zencity held an open discussion with county administrators from McHenry County, IL, Nevada County, CA, and Ottawa County, MI, to discuss their personal experiences.

Below are three lessons they shared:

 1. Cohesive Cross-Channel Communication is Key

Getting communication processes and plans in order at the onset of the virus proved difficult. With no benchmarks in place or previous messaging best practices mapped out, local government leaders had to jump through hurdles quickly and efficiently.

As new and constantly changing information was publicized by the CDC and the IDPH, Scott Hartman, Deputy County Administrator of McHenry County along with his team, solely focused on residents pressing needs while highlighting locally relevant data. As a result, they were able to form a Joint Information Centre (JIC), which used a multi-agency approach towards messaging. This allowed the County to ensure their residents were getting consistent and reliable information from a wide range of sources. Additionally, as new resident concerns came to light, the County adjusted messaging in real-time. Messaging shifted from public health concerns to highlighting the available tools the County has in place to assist with other needs, such as mental health, unemployment, and local businesses. Using Zencity’s dashboard and alerts, McHenry County was able to pivot quickly as new trends presented themselves.

McHenry County using Zencity data to create informative reports for stakeholders

2. Adaptability Above All Else

COVID-19 demands that county leaders think on their feet and respond as quickly as possible. One major adaptation has come in the form of Census 2020 outreach.

Nevada County’s assistant CEO, Mali Dyck, shared how the County’s initial plan to increase participation was to hold kiosk and pop-up events. With that option no longer available, the County had to adapt quickly. They enlisted the help of partner organizations that provide social services, like food banks, as well as family resource centers to reach out to the community. In a more updated approach, the County began reaching out through social media and other mediums, including, radio, local newspaper, outdoor banners, and phone banking.

Meanwhile, Coronavirus hit local economies hard. In an effort to help their local businesses, Nevada County set up the “Nevada County Relief Fund” to support those who did not qualify for state funding. To date, over $400,000 in community grants have been awarded through NCRF. Additionally, the ‘Reopening Advisory Committee’ was created by the County to collect and disseminate best practices for reopening, including template plans and training for working under social distancing measures. The County used Zencity to analyze residents’ opinions on various reopening issues. For example, after noticing a spike in conversations in favor of implementing a mask mandate, County leaders reached out to businesses in their jurisdiction requiring all employees to wear masks.

3. From Anecdotal to Ongoing Resident Surveying

Out with the old and in with the new. This new-normal is just that, and local government leaders are stepping up by innovating and laying the groundwork for new crisis management processes.

Alan Vanderberg, the County Administrator from Ottawa County, MI, expressed how his team’s openness to innovation has helped them face the crisis. This County has had its finger on the pulse for years, in fact they began conducting citizen surveys 17 years ago. Now, with Zencity they are the ultimate innovators, referring to the product as a “24/7” survey, as it enables them to sync up with residents whenever they want; from monitoring residents’ reactions to the County’s COVID-19 efforts to gauging resident feedback on various projects and initiatives led by County leadership such as the Green Route Infrastructure project.

For the full webinar recording, watch here.

Learn how Zencity can help your County navigate any crisis, here.