Information is one of the most important tools available to the public before, during, and after a disaster. Staying up-to-date on what may happen, what is happening, and what to do next is critical for the well-being of your family.

It is now easier than ever to stay connected, thanks to the myriad of resources available for information dissemination. Web sites, social media, direct notifications, and the traditional media are all outlets for news and notifications that can help you in a disaster or weather event.

TV, radio, and newspapers still provide great information in disasters. During Tropical Storm Irene and other disasters the local media has been a true partner in emergency response. Vermont media outlets do a great service to the public by passing along emergency messages to help citizens prepare, respond to, and recover from storms. Most major newspapers and broadcast operations in Vermont have web sites to post that information immediately.

The Vermont Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, and many other local response organizations also communicate directly to the public by use of social media. Vermont DEMHS has both Facebook and Twitter pages. These allow us to reach out to those who choose to follow us and get messages directly to their personal accounts. These also allow the public a chance to message us or comment on what we post -- providing important situational awareness to responders and the public. We encourage local responders to have accounts and use them whenever they can.

Both DEMHS and local responders are also now using Front Porch Forum as an outlet for information. While not as immediate (published once a day, generally) it is still a way of reaching the public directly. The reader-generated content can contain information about an upcoming bake sale, recommended service providers, items for sale, and now emergency response and preparedness information. It is from your neighbors (those who live in your town or neighborhood) and it's sent right to your in-box once a day. Front Porch Forum is now in most Vermont communities.

Our newest notification tool is Vermont Alert. VTAlert.gov allows state and local responders, the National Weather Service, Agency of Transportation, Amber Alerts and others to notify the public of current hazards, alerts on upcoming weather, road closures and conditions, and more. These alerts come to you however you want them to; by text, e-mail, fax, or phone call. You also choose what notifications you receive by content and geography; you select your area and get information about your town or your commute.

Situational awareness information will help you protect your family and property from the fallout of disaster, and help you access recovery resources if you do suffer damage. There are a myriad of ways to get the latest, up-to-the-minute information if you want it. Simply visit some or all of the sites below and sign up for free accounts, and keep your eyes on media broadcasts, printings, and web sites.

Local responders or media: facebook.com or twitter.com and search your local response organization or local media.

Vermont Alert: vtalert.gov

Front Porch Forum: frontporchforum.com/

Vermont DEMHS on Facebook: www.facebook.com/vermontemergencymanagement

Vermont DEMHS on Twitter: @vemvt

Vermont State Police on Twitter: @VTStatePolice

Vermont State Police on Facebook: www.facebook.com/VermontStatePolice

Vermont 511 on Twitter: @511vttwitter.com/511VT

VTrans on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/VTrans/143848835653728

NWS Burlington: www.facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.Burlington.gov and @NWSBurlington

NWS Albany: www.facebook.com/US.NationalWeatherService.Albany.gov and @NWSAlbany

Mark Bosma is the Public Information Officer for the VT Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. He produces all media messages and public outreach materials, and manages all on-line and social media sites for the division.