Spotlight: Fanwood Dealing with the Pandemic

by Eddy Cologna, Fanwood Television

I have been working with the Borough of Fanwood for several years.  Towards the end of 2019 when China was in lockdown and we in America weren’t even dreaming of such a thing, the Borough was upgrading their sound system in the Council Chambers and looking into a multiple camera remote system.  The purchase has been moving slowly due to the pandemic.

Fast forward a few months to February 2020, the Mayor of Fanwood, Colleen Mahr, and some health officials had a 4 camera shoot about the dangers of Covid, and what could happen.  All this was shot in person, with some social distancing but no masks because the information was confusing, even for health officials.  Not long after that, the lockdown occurs.  Masks were required, social distancing enforced and only essential personnel were allowed to physically come to work in borough hall.

Fanwood regularly programed the TV station and was constantly updating the community bulletin board with updated information such as how many residents had Covid, how many fatalities, proper hand washing procedures, and other safety protocols to follow at home.  They needed to physically go to the TV Station to post and schedule content.  I shot the video coverage of the Mayor’s periodic updates.  I did all my work in the field and in person and during that time I didn’t get Covid.  I recorded the Mayor by herself in the Council Chambers utilizing masks and social distancing.  It was new to us and we were all extra cautious when it came to the use of sanitizers, wiping down of equipment, hand washing, etc. 

The Borough of Fanwood hired a consulting firm who set up and ran their virtual council meetings allowing the public to participate remotely.  I would take the feed of the virtual meetings and simulcast it to Facebook Live, using a Live-U unit I purchased from Varto Technologies, and a cellular hotspot together with wired ethernet connection for backup, just in case there was a problem with the wireless connection. Months later, to reduce costs, the clerk’s office took on the duty of managing the meetings but to this day, I still take the zoom feed on my end and simulcast it.

A quick note, now the administrator initiates the zoom meeting and I rebroadcast it to Facebook.  However, if there is a problem with Facebook in any way, it could disrupt the flow of the meeting.  So we keep the computer originating the Zoom separate from the computer feeding Facebook Live.  In this way, if there is a technical issue with the feed during the meeting there is another person with a second computer who can troubleshoot any potential problem that might occur without disrupting the meeting.  This is a much safer way to manage the Facebook live feed. .  Since Facebook has proven to be unreliable, the Borough has announced that the Facebook simulcast is only offered as a courtesy, but participation by the public must take place via zoom.  However people continue to post questions to Facebook and they are read to the Borough Council.

While there are multiple solutions to having a virtual meeting like GoTo Meeting, Google and Microsoft Teams, we have chosen to use the combination of Zoom and Facebook Live.  It has proven to be cost effective and overall, pretty reliable.  Prior to the pandemic, work sessions were not broadcast on TV nor Facebook.  Now all Council meeting are covered and broadcast.  This is one positive effect of the pandemic.

As of this writing in November 2021, Fanwood still doesn’t have in person meetings, but are now looking into resuming them in January 2022 using a hybrid solution that will combine virtual and in-person participation.

In conclusion, the PEG stations became an invaluable asset during the pandemic, providing important hyper localized content during uncertain times.  It’s a good reminder that, although the number of cable subscriptions is decreasing and over the air broadcast stations are losing viewers to steaming services, it is still essential that municipalities use their cable channels and social media to reach their citizens, particularly seniors who still used to traditional viewing methods to get information on matters of local interest.