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Case Study

How one New York Congressperson used STW Spoke to help residents after Hurricane Ida

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We chatted with the team from a NYC congressperson’s office about their effective use of texting to provide support and resources to constituents after the damaging impacts of Hurricane Ida in September 2021. They’re using texting to meaningfully connect with residents and used Scale to Win’s MMS feature to send affordable messages in multiple languages. 

The Top Line: We texted constituents after Hurricane Ida to check in, ask what help (if any) they need, and share information about getting FEMA funding for flood damage. 

What we did: Hurricane Ida impacted many constituents of this New York City Congressperson, so two days after the hurricane, our team launched a texting program. We texted every text-able number in our district (over 200,000) to check in with them on how they were impacted by the flooding. Our initial outbound texts were sent in multiple languages (English, Spanish, Bangladeshi, and Arabic) to ensure a connection with as many people as possible. While many texting tools can’t support longer messages written in multiple languages, the Scale to Win team was really helpful and worked with our team to make sure we could send our messages out using their MMS feature, so that we could send out our messages containing many different languages without breaking the bank. And by using the Scale to Win “Tags” feature, we were able to tag responses with the language residents responded in, which meant we could assign dedicated volunteers who spoke that language to respond to that message.

We asked residents if they were affected by the floods and if they had insurance (almost no one in New York has flood insurance). Residents responded with pictures and with stories of what happened to them. We included most of the information in the initial outbound text because we wanted to share all the information right away, and not require a response for further details. About 900 people texted back that they had serious flooding damage. For anyone with damage, we passed along the information to apply for FEMA funding. Using the Scale to Win platform, we were able to help 831 constituents apply for this funding. When we saw that lots of people were getting denied by FEMA, we followed up with information on how to appeal a denial. None of this would have been possible without the ability to use our texting tool as rapid response outreach.

In addition to helping our constituents in this direct way, we also used the data of where our constituents impacted by flooding live, and overlaid it on top of New York’s flood zone mapping. We were able to see street-by-street details of where people were flooded, and where the city of NY hasn’t adequately invested in flood prevention, including things we could see as we walked around the district – blocked drainage sewer grates, inadequate trash removal, and more. We can now take that data and show the city where these problems are to advocate for more investment.

We had about 500 volunteers across the country sending these texts. We ran a Zoom training on how to respond to basic questions about the FEMA aid, and ran the program out of our texting channel on our volunteer Slack. Scale to Win makes assigning texts to volunteers easy, using their assignment management feature, volunteers can claim their own batch of texts to send out or messages to reply to without manual work from our team. And using the STW Message Review feature, experienced volunteers could jump in and review messages sent from newer volunteers, to help train up our volunteer team and ensure residents were getting the most important information ASAP. Our volunteers found this program very rewarding, and they’ve stuck around with our team afterwards. 

Metrics:

  • 200k+ texts
  • 500 volunteers
  • 900 people responded with flood damage
  • Helped 831 people apply for FEMA funding.

Takeaways:

  • Using texting to connect constituents with resources is a great use of the tool
  • Sharing important details in the initial outbound means everyone receives that crucial info
  • Texting in multiple languages – including in languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet – is doable on Scale to Win!
  • This type of aid work provides a positive volunteer experience because volunteers know that they are providing actual help and resources to people
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