Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

The Problems with Disaster Messaging (And How to Improve It)

You give people a threat-based message, they have to buy into all of the bad things. Terrorism is the best example. Look at how hard the terrorism message is for people to embrace. It’s even harder than the national disasters.

We think there’s a different path.

Talk about what a viable message should contain.
We have several initiatives that are all about getting people connected. We have one initiative that’s nothing but cellphone. Become a freak about your cellphone.

Get your neighborhood in there, get all your emergency numbers in there, get your ICE [in case of emergency] contact in and label the people who are your neighbors so that your phone is your brilliant portable document storage.

The thing is whether or not you ever have a disaster and you need to crack into the kit, the communications stuff will help you for anything. There are a hundred good reasons to have your neighbors programmed into your phone.

There’s a different way to leverage resources in a community than to just tell everybody you need to have this, otherwise horrible stuff is going to happen.

Should emergency managers be charged with the preparedness message?
Technically, you would say it is their job, but they’re not the right people to be putting forth that message. I believe, and this is where the public can play the biggest role, that there’s a completely different message.

My background is advertising and marketing research. I spent the first 10 years of my [working] life in advertising and research, and I would be happy to go to my grave saying that we have never framed preparedness the way preparedness needs to be framed if you want people to do it. 

No private-sector company would invest billions of dollars putting a message out that had such dismal returns. You just would never do it.

Different messengers and people need to hear the message from messengers that they believe in. I was just in a conversation about how religion influences disaster, and the reality is, if you want people who are affiliated with a religious group to get the message, they’ll get that message when that religious organization threads it into the way they speak.

There are all kinds of ways to frame your conversation so that it works for the community.

The business community doesn’t have a bunch of money to spend on this. The majority of businesses have not done any of the planning. It’s the exception rather than the rule.

If you look at the big companies that’ve done it — the Targets and Wal-Marts — some of them only recently got into this game. Most businesses have done so little and there are really easy things they could do. Look at how cheap it is to have storage space online. You could back up your files so easily for pennies. If you don’t have confidential information, you could back it up using Gmail because you have unlimited amounts of Gmail space.

Schools are a perfect example. Every time we do a presentation at a church, the people who line up to talk to us are almost always teachers. They are overwhelmed for what they’re expected to do, so there are all sorts of things like having the kids play a much more active role in the planning and response.

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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