OGDEN -- Trying to stay connected to residents and get information out quickly, several Top of Utah governments are turning to the social networking site Twitter with varying degrees of success.
Lori Buttars, Weber-Morgan Health Department spokeswoman, said she heard about ways to use Twitter to get information to county residents and decided it might be a useful tool.
She got official approval last week to use the site, although she'd been personally keeping the health department's account going for several weeks before that.
With messages that warn people of water safety or link to news articles about West Nile virus, Buttars is hopeful the site will get health-related news out. For the health department's abstinence program FutureMethod, it is vital to get messages to teens, Buttars said, and teens are on Twitter.
Buttars also thinks the Web site could be valuable in providing real-time information in case of an emergency.
That's what the Bear River Health Department did when a broken canal caused a landslide in Logan two weeks ago, said Jill Parker, Bear River spokeswoman.
The three-county health department began tweeting at the beginning of the swine flu outbreak.
"In this time of the recession and funds being cut, we still felt like there was an urgency to get information out," Parker said. "Our agency believes we can no longer communicate at the speed of government."
With nearly 2,000 people following the Bear River Health Department, it is one of the larger local government agencies on the site, but Parker said it is still too soon to tell whether the site has been effective in reaching department goals. She said they will be evaluating the site later in the year.
For now, health officials just hope to talk to people.
"We wanted to find a place where people are, and they're always on their phones," she said.
Other agencies have a different target audience.
The Weber County Sheriff is beginning to use Twitter as a way to communicate with media, an idea based on similar use by Salt Lake City Police, said Lt. Mark Lowther.
He said Salt Lake police have been using the site for eight months to get quick information out to media outlets about events like road closures or news releases. Lowther said that use has been very effective and Weber County hopes to follow suit.
"We're just hoping not to field six or seven press calls," Lowther said.
In ongoing road closures or if the public information officer isn't available, Lowther said they want to send short messages out so news media know the latest information without having to call every few minutes for updates.
Alternately, he wants to be able to send out tweets directing people to Web sites where more information is available, such as a news release.
"I know it's not what the original intent was, but it's there and it's free, so why not?"
It didn't have a successful ending for everyone, though.
Justin Morris, Weber County planner and Ogden City Council candidate, said he opened an account for the planning commission to notify people of upcoming meetings and provide links to documents.
His efforts were halted by an uncooperative IT department.
"Our IT blocks the site," he said.
Without access from work, Morris said what he hoped would be a useful information tool hasn't been updated since April.
Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey also has a lone tweet on his account.
But Godfrey said it won't stay that way.
The city is beginning to use social network sites to communicate with residents and get feedback, he said.
"It's just an allocation of resources right now," he said. "We've been very busy lately."