Over this Valentine’s Day weekend, the City of New York gave away hundreds of thousands of condoms as part of its NYC Condom ’safe sex’ social marketing campaign. Since it launched the program on Valentine’s Day in 2007, the City’s Department of Health has distributed a total of 70 million free samples.
Now, obviously there are differences between emergency preparedness and safe sex preparedness. But one similarity between both (and other social education campaigns) is that if you want to change citizen behavior sometimes you need to offer some kind of encouragement to those citizens to do so. Yet, to date when it comes to emergency preparedness, that type of incentive and creativity is for the most part not being employed.
Federal, state and local government web sites all recommend that the public store extra emergency supplies for emergencies, which is not an insubstantial financial commitment, particularly in these economic times. But there has not been a concerted effort to provide citizens with a start in that direction. I’m not saying that the government should be responsible for fully preparing every American. Instead, it just means giving people a little something to get their attention and encourage them to begin the process, as has been done in other social marketing areas.
Of course, a condom retails for about $1.39/each over (or maybe more precisely, under) the counter while in the preparedness area the necessary items are more costly. That’s where I think we need to get the private sector — which showed its interest and capacity in post-disaster response after Hurricane Katrina — far more involved in preparedness cause marketing partnerships. In fact, I think not involving business more directly in preparedness campaigns over the past few years has been a huge missed opportunity. The idea would be to set up partnerships in which the public would get some free preparedness supplies while providing promotional attention and more traffic for firms in the emergency preparedness business categories (ie. big box stores, safety/construction supplies firms, food and bottled water companies, etc.). A nice potential win-win situation that should capitalized upon.
Governments cannot just list items on a web site for the public to buy and store, and realistically expect most people to follow those directions. And predictably, they haven’t. If we want citizens to take preparedness seriously and actually go through the process, federal, state and local governments need to offer the type of encouragement, creativity and focus that the City of New York has shown on its safe sex campaign.
The role of incentives was underscored by former White House Terrorism Adviser Fran Townsend on this blog last year. I also included some incentive-based ideas as part of my preparedness recommendations for the “New Year and New Administration”:
*CREATE TAX-FREE PERIODS FOR CONSUMERS TO PURCHASE PREPAREDNESS SUPPLIES. PROVIDE A TAX WRITEOFF TO CITIZENS TO PURCHASE PREPAREDNESS-RELATED PRODUCTS AS A WAY TO ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION AND TO SIGNAL GOVERNMENTAL COMMITMENT. ALSO CONSIDER TARGETING ASSISTANCE TO CITIZENS WHO CANNOT AFFORD TO PREPARE.
*BRING IN BUSINESS TO HELP SELL PREPAREDNESS – DESIGN AND ROLL OUT A FULL SERVICE PUBLIC PREPAREDNESS MARKETING CAMPAIGN WITH HELP FROM PRIVATE SECTOR. GALVANIZE BUSINESS TO TAKE ON DISASTER PREPAREDNESS IN THE SAME WAY THEY HAVE WITH DISASTER RESPONSE, MOST NOTABLY IN AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE KATRINA.
In sum, I believe that government using its incentives at its disposal in a small, but demonstrative, manner while tapping the private sector’s resources (and self interest) can help accelerate citizen preparedness.