Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

The Preparedness Message Isn’t Reaching the Public

Even that is difficult for those who struggle daily to take care of their basic needs. “If I didn’t eat this morning, that’s real,” Allen said. “I’m supposed to be prepared for something that may or may not happen? I haven’t even thought that far ahead. It’s going to require a different effort.”

Allen said getting people to purchase items they might need in an emergency will take incentives. “I need to eat; I need shoes, so come at me with some way I can get that, such as a Target coupon. Something like that would be a lot less costly than some of the actions we have to take after an event.”

Jones agreed, saying citizens will prioritize what’s valuable to them right now. “That’s always the way it will be. You’re never going to get people to prioritize the earthquake, flood or act of terrorism over their daily needs.”

Jones stressed that citizens are much likelier to develop resilience by focusing on things that could help during a disaster and every day, like a cellphone.

“If I told you to put aside your computer until you need it for a disaster, by the time you needed it you wouldn’t be familiar with it,” Jones said. “That’s exactly what happens with our disaster stuff. You’d have a better shot with a cellphone.”

She said people should program the names and phone numbers of their neighbors, employees and relatives into their cellphones. “If you don’t have resources like food and kits, maybe somebody else does,” Jones said. “Maybe you’ve got other resources. Maybe you’re the guy with the power tools or the big backyard where everybody can meet.”

Oden said it’s important for citizens not to think of disaster preparedness as a one-time deal. “If you’re building preparedness over a long period, it’s in your head and you’re more likely to take additional steps to be prepared than if you bought a kit and put it in a closet.”

Jones and Allen echoed that sentiment. “Anything that you can build into your everyday muscle is much more likely to serve you in a crisis,” Jones said.

“Resilience is about getting better over time,” Allen added.

Community Affiliations

Emergency managers shouldn’t pass up an opportunity to educate residents on becoming prepared, however they shouldn’t expect dramatic results. Local community groups that residents identify with and trust are best to push out the preparedness messages.

Community organizations, churches, schools, businesses and the like are better positioned in the community to deliver a more resonating message.

“People need to hear the message from people they believe in,” said Jones. “If you want people who are affiliated with religious groups to get the message, they’ll get the message when that religious organization threads it into a way they speak.”

In addition, community groups are the only way to reach certain segments of society, such as non-English speaking residents who may not trust government. That will become more significant in the next 15 to 20 years as the Hispanic and Asian-American population is estimated to grow by 18 percent, Oden said.

“If we as government can’t either linguistically or culturally connect to groups of people, a level of trust is hard to get,” he said. “Take for instance our outdoor warning sirens that we use for severe weather. People who are non-English speaking are going to have a harder time getting the message of what warning sirens really mean to them.”

Citizens tend to be somewhat passé toward government warnings, as evidenced by some of the response to a Federal Signal survey, which suggested that most people need to be able to validate a warning from another source. In the survey, 23 percent said they’d need to hear about local property damage before they became concerned. “The sense that bad things happen to other people is a real concern,” said John Von Thaden, general manager for alerting and notification systems at Federal Signal.

Jim McKay  |  Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his wife, Christie, daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout. Jim can be reached at jmckay@emergencymgmt.com.

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