KATY, Texas (FOX 26) - As more and more people count on social media for news and entertainment, emergency information for specific neighborhoods is spreading quickly, too. A major fire department serving the Katy area has just partnered with Nextdoor.
"The platform that's offered by Nextdoor is a wonderful way to communicate with our neighbors," says Jeff Hevey, Chief of Harris County Emergency Services Department 48.
HCESD 48 serves nearly 130,000 residents within a 45 square mile area, and Chief Hevey says Nextdoor is going to be an increasingly useful tool.
"I realized, early on, that people in Western Harris County, especially people in unincorporated Harris County, don't know who provides their fire service or emergency medical delivery," Hevey says.
Chief Hevey says Nextdoor gives his department two-way communication. It can notify specific neighborhoods about emergencies nearby, and send out general information about home fire safety or training opportunities. Meanwhile, residents can contact the department directly with questions or concerns.
"Nextdoor is a private, social media network," explains HCESD 48's Public Information Officer, Lt. Simon Vandyke. "Only neighbors within that neighborhood can participate."
Nextdoor is a website and a free app that many consider their local "Facebook." But residents have to sign up for Nextdoor to benefit from the fire department's partnership. Vandyke estimates that only 10% of the people HCESD serves are on the Nextdoor network.
David Hill, a board member on the Morton Ranch Subdivision's homeowners association, says half of their neighborhood has signed up, taking advantage of all the network has to offer.
"They report crime and safety, and general information," Hill says. "They use it for lost and found, and classified ads."
Hill says residents can put as much information, or as little information, as they want on the Nextdoor profile, but people have found the network surprisingly useful.
HCESD is just the third fire department on the West side of Houston to partner with Nextdoor. Vandyke says the Houston Fire Department was first, then Cy-Fair signed up, and now his department has.
Vandyke says Nextdoor only recently created a platform for fire departments, and he's urging all the other agencies in the area to get on board