Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

The Preparedness Message Isn’t Reaching the Public

That’s where community groups can help. Von Thaden said there are big differences in the way some emergency managers coordinate with local organizations and communities, but it’s important for emergency managers to do it. “It’s a piece that emergency managers are looking for,” he said. “It continues to grow as a role they play.”

Allen used the military as an example of an organization having a captive audience. He said that when top brass wanted something known, they presented it to a controlled audience in multiple ways.

There are a couple of lessons there, and one is that people listen to and heed a message from organizations that have their direct attention. People need messages in different forms, and they need it from trusted sources, like churches, schools and employers.

“What you should do is seek out groups and community leaders, be it community centers or churches,” Oden said. “People are much more connected today to groups of like interests than ever before, and if we as emergency managers are focusing on the leaders of those groups, then they can pass the preparedness message down to citizens.”

Another approach is to penetrate schools. Jones said schools could start teaching about disaster preparedness as early as preschool. Two- to 3-year-olds can learn to crawl to a safe spot and know by color codes which areas are safe. A green-colored carpet under a table could signify safety, and kids would learn to be safe, not scared.

Social media also is a tool for communities to use for preparedness. “Facebook is way more resilient than most local governments,” Jones said. “I’m located in Oakland, Calif., and I can promise you after the next catastrophic earthquake, Facebook will be more resilient than my city. It’s little things like that spread across a community, more than it is big government-mandated interventions that work.”

Diverse Approach

There are commonalities between the gaps in both preparedness and the public’s response to alerts, as evidenced by the previously cited Federal Signal study statistics. “I think it speaks to the fact that many Americans have been complacent,” Von Thaden said. Just as telling everyone to buy a kit is ineffective, using one message or method for alerting is ignoring portions of the population.

The key to reaching different population segments is to diversify the methods for alert notifications because preferences for alerts vary greatly among individuals. “Often it can be age or regionally related in terms of their experiences, and that can be anything from looking for text messages, a phone call or traditional messaging through radio and television,” Von Thaden said.

He said a layered approach to notification is necessary and includes a mode for residents to validate the initial warning. Part of the hesitation of citizens is a disconnection with local emergency management strategies. For example, 71 percent of respondents in the Federal Signal survey didn’t know if their community had a personal alerting and notification solution.

Von Thaden reiterated that emergency managers who partner with local community organizations do better in terms of having the public’s ear.

He said putting the decision of how to receive alerts in the hands of the recipients by offering multiple options is important. It’s a form of empowerment that a successful preparedness program should include.

“If we’re building a system of empowerment, we’re building preparedness,” Oden said. “Anytime someone feels empowered, they are always going to be more likely to pursue
something. It’s just human nature.”

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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