“Weathering the storm” takes on new meaning in the face of this winter’s anticipated strong El Nino season. After a four-year drought, cities up and down the California Coast are working to prepare citizens for drenching rains that could threaten lives and property. Two of those cities, San Luis Obispo and Manhattan Beach this week shared how their websites, designed by online government innovators at Vision Internet, are key to their strategic emergency preparedness.

San Luis Obispo Fire Chief Garret Olson called the City website’s Winter Weather Preparedness and other storm-related sections “incredibly efficient.”

“Every winter brings the potential for major flooding in our area and El Nino increases that threat,” he said. “Water has caused a lot of expensive property damage, as those who were unprepared are now well aware. Our Fire and Public Works departments post information about storm preparation on our City’s website so citizens can access the information they need any time of day or night to increase their preparedness without requiring additional staff time.”

Despite the state’s high-tech reputation, one of California’s best defenses against flooding is still a burlap bag filled with sand. A location map on San Luis Obispo’s website shows where people can buy and fill sandbags when a major storm is expected. And an interactive flood map helps citizens keep tabs on neighborhood flooding.

Chief Olson said community emergency and disaster preparedness resources help citizens to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours following a disaster. To help locals maximize their preparation and safety, the website offers a homeowner’s tool kit for preparedness, a program on disaster preparedness for the home (with a disaster checklist and 24-week family disaster supplies calendar) and a link to the Chamber of Commerce business continuity plan that helps businesses get back up and running as soon as possible after any emergency.

The website’s City News section tracks significant accomplishments in local storm preparation efforts ranging from a local Boy Scout troop’s work to protect a city landmark from rising storm water to updates on a storm drain replacement project. Subscriber emails and social media posts feed news to people who want to stay informed on hot topics, emergency preparedness and more.

San Luis Obispo also uses its website to enhance transparency, and posts communications between City staff and the City Council on storm preparedness efforts. A September 3rd memo from City Manager Katie Lichtig to the City Council reported on activities underway in seven different departments stating: “Preparing for winter weather is an all-hands activity at the City.”

Further down the coast, the City of Manhattan Beach keeps community members in the know with a “Storm Preparedness” page dedicated to Preparing for El Nino 2015. Important notices, like a community workshop on how the City was preparing for El Nino with respect to flood issues, protection of property and public safety, also are prominently featured and presentations are posted online for those who cannot attend meetings.

In an ironic twist for the drought-stricken area, Manhattan Beach’s Community News section also publicized free rain barrel distribution events and tips on harvesting storm water for landscape irrigation.

“Preparation is key to minimizing potential impacts,” said Manhattan Beach Information Systems Manager Leilani Flores Emnace. “We use our website and community outreach to provide citizens with tips on how to prepare for a storm, what to do during a storm and actions to take after a storm.”

What are the potential impacts of not having an informed public in emergency situations like El Nino storms?

According to Chief Olson, it’s “needlessly exposing our citizens to preventable risk.”

Education and preparation are keys to public safety and, as demonstrated by San Luis Obispo and Manhattan Beach, city websites play a vital role in those efforts.