The only thing predictable about Oklahoma weather is that it is always unpredictable. Over the past few years we’ve all noticed an increase in snow and ice storms, among other dangerous and inclement weather. When our 14-county jurisdiction is blanketed with snow and ice it delays our work schedules and causes confusion.
We now have improved ways to alert employees and citizens of tribal office closings or delayed start times. To give Cherokee Nation service providers the timeliest information about whether offices are open, closed or opening late, we’re using a new notification tool here at the Cherokee Nation, and it was used it for the first time ever this winter.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker
This week Cherokee Nation used its new phone messaging system that sends a voicemail and/or text message to Cherokee Nation government employees with cell phones in the event of severe weather or an emergency. It was overwhelmingly successful, as almost 1,300 calls and 1,475 text messages went out to alert our staff of a delayed work day.
Cherokee Nation contracted with a company called Blackboard Connect for the mass notification service because we want to ensure we get information as out as quickly as possible. These are decisions that affect our work day and the business of our tribal government. In the past, when a foot of snow or patches of ice covered the ground, our employees and the citizens we service would call the tribal complex early that morning to hear a recorded message whether tribal offices would be open.
We knew there must be a better, smarter and faster way to communicate, so Cherokee Nation’s information technology department created a database of all government-issued employee cell phones in Blackboard Connect. Employees without a government issued cell phone were also given the option to add their phone numbers in as well. Now when inclement weather strikes and our administration makes a decision to close the complex, start work later than normal or close early, employees receive a phone call, a text message or both, as early as possible. The notifications are distributed by our communications office.
Area school systems, including Fort Gibson, and city governments, like Tahlequah, are successfully using similar cell phone messaging systems to keep their stakeholders informed. Sequoyah Schools also uses this system. The pre-recorded phone message is still in place for those who choose to seek information in that way.
Citizens may also check Cherokee Nation Facebook (facebook.com/TheCherokeeNation) and Cherokee Nation Twitter (twitter.com/CherokeeNation) for the latest inclement weather updates as well. Our traditional all-employee email notifications will still be sent out and the pre-recorded phone message will still be played if someone calls our main numbers at (918) 453-5000 and 1(800) 256-0671.
I assure you that determining whether to close or delay opening Cherokee Nation offices is not a kneejerk reaction or a decision made with little thought or consideration. We close or delay office openings only when it’s truly dangerous because we know our Cherokee citizens need medicine from clinics, they need food from our distribution centers and they need critical documents from our registration or higher education offices. To make that decision, I consult with Cherokee Nation executive directors to determine the tribe’s ability to operate and still serve our people in the event of inclement weather. We take such care in the decision making because we know when we close, it does have a domino effect.
Utilizing this new notification system is just one more way we’re increasing the level and efficiency of communication with our employees, and helping to keep all of our citizenry better informed.
Bill John Baker is principal chief of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.