Officials look to use social media for emergencies

A new public safety effort in Harrisburg is looking to use modern communication methods like e-mail, text messaging and social media to alert residents of crime and emergency-related events.

Mark Burch, chairman of the town's Public Safety Committee, formed the group in the fall of 2009 with a goal to enhance communication between the town of Harrisburg, the fire department, the sheriff's office and the community. The five-year resident, who was part of a string of break-ins in his neighborhood, hopes the effort will expand on traditional neighborhood crime watch programs to include the greater community.

"The committee provides an important venue that allows local citizens and business owners to meet with public safety officials to discuss their concerns and to identify possible improvements in the communication of information and statistics important to the community," he said. "We also expect to define the communication channels and events that the town, fire department and sheriff's department will use to disseminate information. Hopefully, we'll have more eyes and ears in place for quicker, more thorough communication."

About six people serve on the committee, which meets 6:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at Harrisburg Town Hall. Participation is open to Harrisburg residents and business owners.

One of the committee's latest efforts is to expand the use of Cabarrus County's automated mass notification service that sends time-sensitive messages by phone, e-mail and text to those registered. Registration is available on the town's website,

The planned "communication network" would also alert residents through social media like Facebook and Twitter. Updates pertaining to emergencies or crime could be sent out to more people more quickly.

In the coming months, the committee expects to define the communication channels and events the town, fire department and sheriff's department will use to share information. The town also will test the network with a pilot group this year. Burch also said the network could be helpful in times of tight budgets.