How This Nonprofit Connected to Their Community During the Texas Freeze

Texas was hit with one of its most devastating natural disasters in February 2021 when a storm caused temperatures to dip below freezing levels. Known as the Texas freeze, the event triggered system-wide failures across the state’s energy infrastructure, leaving many Texans without power and water for days.

According to a study from the University of Houston, nearly 70% of Texans lost power during the week of the storm for an average of 42 hours and almost half lost access to running water for an average of 52 hours, mostly due to frozen or exploding pipes. With so many Texans affected, the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Texas (BBBSTX), an organization that matches adults with children to form a mentoring relationship, sprang into action to stay connected to their network of Bigs (mentors) and the parents and guardians of their Littles (mentees). With internet access down, BBBSTX turned to texting.

How BBBSTX used Zipwhip to stay connected to their community

Because many were without email access, BBBSTX began reaching out to parents, guardians and Bigs by text to perform wellness checks and direct them to resources.

“When we talk about serving our community, it’s not just through mentorship. It’s through creating healthy relationships,” said Carlee Morgan, director of recruitment and intake. “The health of our community was so vital to the core of our mission, and in a circumstance like the great freeze, where people’s immediate health—ability to have clean water, ability to have a warm space—when that was impacted, we really needed to reach out… to ensure that folks were healthy.”

Texting with Zipwhip had been a part of BBBSTX’s disaster response plan for staff members prior to the freeze, but the organization hadn’t prepared how to connect with parents, guardians and Bigs during such an event. However, with contacts already separated into groups by region, BBBSTX was able to react quickly and send out communications using Group Messaging to reach constituents in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Tarrant County. They offered resources, such as where to find warming centers since so many were without heat, and even took it upon themselves to deliver clean drinking water when possible.

One family, whose children had just been matched in the program a month prior, had been without water for four days. And like many in the area, they could not leave their home due to icy roads. After confirming their location via text, BBBSTX realized that a staff member was only five miles away from the family’s home and had extra water to spare. They were able to drive directly to the house to drop it off.

A text conversation between Morgan and a member of a family in need.

Texting helped BBBSTX connect in the days following the freeze, too. During a check-in, one constituent had received an eviction notice and didn’t know what her next steps would be. BBBSTX texted her the resources that she would need so she wouldn’t have to leave her home.

The nonprofit ended up reaching out to roughly 2,600 people throughout the Texas freeze.

Morgan added that having real-time communication during the freeze was invaluable. Not only because it allowed the organization to offer efficient, fast check-ins, but also to show constituents that BBBSTX sees them as important members of the community, not just as mentors and mentees.

Why does texting work during a power outage?

The Texas freeze cut off power to a majority of Texans, limiting how they could communicate with one another. But why were so many still able to text? Texting can be a reliable lifeline during a power outage mainly for two reasons.

One, cell towers may continue to function when the power goes out. Many cell towers have some form of backup power. They may rely on batteries, and if those run out, generators will kick in. Depending on whether the generators can be refueled, the towers can continue to provide power for days.

Two, texting is an efficient alternative to phone calls during a disaster like the Texas freeze. In a time of crisis, many of us will attempt to reach friends and family (or gather information by refreshing websites or check social media for updates). Without internet access, the influx of communications at the same time falls to cell towers, which can overwhelm the connection. This results in failed calls or sluggish data connections.

A text message uses tiny amounts of data compared to the amount used to either place a call, refresh websites or check social media for updates. According to Gizmodo, a one-minute phone call takes up 720 KB, but a text will only take up 0.15625 KB. An SMS also has a larger chance of getting through because texts can wait in queues to be delivered compared to a phone call where the connection may just drop. Not to mention, texting can save precious battery life on your phone since the data demand is so low.

Learn more about texting for business

To learn more about how BBBSTX uses Zipwhip throughout their nonprofit organization, check out our Zipcast episode featuring Carlee Morgan. Listen to the podcast here.

New to texting for business? We have lots of free resources to help you get started.

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