Public Engagement in the Time of COVID-19: A Look at Otis

Public participation is essential to the planning practice. Without gathering community input, we can miss critical details necessary for plan success. Recognizing the importance of involving the people potentially affected by a project in the visioning and decision-making process, public outreach is often a requirement of many grants. Grants with public outreach requirements include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant to complete local hazard mitigation plans, and the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness (MVP) planning and action grants.

During a pandemic there are many unique challenges we are all facing, particularly finding ways to replace in-person gatherings. We must find new ways to reach residents and stakeholders in our communities safely and effectively.  The Town of Otis has taken on this challenge – utilizing both FEMA Pre-Disaster Mitigation (PDM) and EEA MVP grants to develop the Otis Hazard Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Plan.

Each of these grants have specific requirements for public involvement in the planning process. For the FEMA hazard mitigation planning grants, communities are required to gather community input during the early research and drafting stages, as well as when a final draft is complete. The EEA MVP planning grant requires an invite-only workshop, and a public listening session to present workshop results. To meet the requirements of both grant programs, the Town of Otis will have two public meetings, one before and another after the MVP Workshop.

The first public meeting will be taking place on December 9th on Zoom. However, not everyone has equal access to utilizing virtual meeting software, and the Town has prioritized ensuring everyone can be involved. Therefore, the Town will be conducting additional outreach to engage residents in understanding the risks and vulnerabilities posed by hazards and climate change such as flooding, higher temperatures and impacts on snow-dependent businesses, tornadoes, and increased pest or invasive species populations. Outreach will include informative articles on hazards, climate change, and ways to prepare or adapt to prepare for a safe and sustainable future.

If you are interested in learning more about the grant programs mentioned, contact the BRPC Environment and Energy Program Manager, Melissa Provencher at