Preparedness: Science + Outreach + Splash + Social + Mobile

Preparedness is the tough nut to crack because it requires the public to take on personal responsibility for their own safety during and recovery following a disaster.  If they don’t accept that a disaster will happen to them, they’ll never buy the concept of preparedness.

Peel readiness separate from preparedness for the rest of this.  Readiness is the internal actions that a response agency takes to be ready to response that I’m not touching on here.

The preparedness phase is characterized as the long period of quiet between disasters.  Preparedness missionaries around the country advocate for individuals to take action to prepare for the disaster.  Many forests gave their lives for the quantity of printed materials that have been distributed over the decades.  “Prolific” described the disaster education unit that I was in; meaning we wrote lots of content to be used by preparedness missionaries.  It remains tough to quantify the effectiveness of putting a brochure in hand.  Long ago, I was told that the non-impact of a non-disaster couldn’t be measured.

The public health education model was merged with disaster preparedness.  It shifted the model in two ways.  First, the concept of reaching people where they are, how they wanted to be reached, in a culturally sensitive manner became a mantra.  Public health educators know that there is a specific process (or steps) to reach people to create intent to change.  Measuring the intent to change was key to determining the success of disaster preparedness education.

Still, getting the information to individuals is a time consuming process.  Education is an individual or small group process; mass education is hard to do.  Mass media selling a concept is different though.  Marketing and advertising companies have millions (billions?) of dollars invested to generate highly effective programs that for-profit companies use to get people to believe in something and pay for it (think retail establishments).  Non-profit organizations and emergency management lack the funding and skills to launch a big enough program to compete with major advertisers.  There is a lot of noise yelling for individual’s attention.  Competing messaging is everywhere with advertisements being the most obvious.

Getting acceptance in someone’s mind and heart is all about repeated impressions; no silver bullet works.  If I was in advertising, there would be plan to always spread preparedness messages around to create regular impressions.  When the person was ready to buy my product, the action would shift to overdrive to surround the person with messages to influence the decision.  Disaster preparedness is really good at the general spreading of preparedness messages yet seems to be lacking in targeting the people most ready to take preparedness actions.  I believe that people are most ready to become prepared right before a disaster and right after a disaster.

“Selling” preparedness as an idea to the public has always been an uphill challenge.  Preparedness has never been as sexy a sale as response.  The cost and effort of response was easy to see.  Money spent nationally on preparedness versus response is probably preparedness pennies to the response dollar (although I don’t have specific data to support this).  Some days, I feel as if those valuable pennies for preparedness were not being effective, but there were no solid tools to reach people any other way.  That has changed with the emergence of social media, followed by social networking, and now social engagement.  Social tools now exist to reach people in new and effective ways.

Disaster preparedness needs a shift from only steady state of messaging with urgency all the time.  The new model is a relaxed steady state that shifts to overdrive immediately before and after a disaster.  The relaxed steady state should still be enough to catch those people who are ready to make the change and seeking information, plus those people who were on the fence and just needed a little nudge.

The overdrive mode would use social tools to reach people just in time.  More specifically, reaching the right people on the right medium at the right time with the right information to bump their preparedness better.  We are not talking about a silver bullet at the right time to sky rocket their state of preparedness, but instead just bumping them along the continuum of preparedness when they are motivated to make a change.

The future of disaster preparedness will be a blending of disaster science, public health outreach experience, advertising splash and social mediums with an eye to making it all mobile.