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Liberty Lake launches new texting system

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Residents of Liberty Lake have a new way to communicate with the city about everything from the city budget to park reservations – by text.

People can text the word “Hi” to (509) 255-7445 to get started. The automated system, run by TextMyGov, replies with a standard greeting that invites people to text the word “contact” to get contact information or “report” to report an issue.

“You can type in certain keywords,” said Liberty Lake Operations and Maintenance Director Jen Camp.

Once a keyword is typed in, such as “budget,” the system sends the user a link to the page on the city’s website that addresses that topic. It is entirely automated. “It’s looped into our city website,” she said. “It’s not like anybody’s on the other end.”

People can get information about building permits, ballfield use, the police department, the library, or any number of topics. “The list of keywords is a mile long,” Camp said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

If a user types in something that isn’t a recognized keyword, the system responds that it didn’t find a match. But it runs a search for that word or phrase on the city’s website and sends the user a link to a web page with the search results.

Camp said city administrator Katy Allen heard about the texting program, and had staff research it to see if it might be a good fit for Liberty Lake. That included contacting other cities that were already using it to see what they thought of it.

“They loved it,” she said. “It’s kind of one more way to connect with the city without talking to a person. A lot of people like that.”

The program went live on Nov. 23, and Camp said the city is hoping that the system will become another way to facilitate communication with the public. Nearly everyone, even those who aren’t necessarily technology savvy, knows how to text, Camp said. “It’s always a challenge to reach people as a government,” she said.

Sometimes people have a difficult time finding the information they need on the city’s website, and Camp said the new texting system could make that an easier process.

“This is a shortcut way to get something from our website,” she said. “It kind of acts as an aid to the website. It’s much easier to use.”

Camp said just over 150 people have sent a “Hi” text to the system, and it appears people are trying it out. The city hopes that number will go up as word spreads about the new program.

“You have to build from scratch on things like this,” she said. “It takes time.”

People can also sign up to get notifications about news in Liberty Lake by texting the words “Liberty Lake” to 9189. The system, also run by TextMyGov, will respond to ask users to opt in to receive messages sent by the city. Once signed up, users can decide to opt out of future messages at any time. So far, the city hasn’t sent out any messages using this system, Camp said.

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