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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

FEMA Regional Summit Offers Ideas For Developing “Culture Of Preparedness” Incl. Changing Term “Preparedness,” Establishing Disaster Survivors Advisory Group, Recruiting Oprah To The Issue

November 6th, 2009 · 2 Comments

I recently read an interesting report, “A Strategy for Developing ‘A Culture of Preparedness,’” which summarizes the work of FEMA Region V’s “2009 “Preparedness Summit.” Held in Chicago in January, the Summit brought together 75 government and non-government experts from a number of fields “to generate ideas toward creating a culture of preparedness.”

James Opoka, Region V’s Deputy Federal Preparedness Coordinator, told me Wednesday that the idea for the Summit largely came out of officials’ “frustration” with lack of progress on citizen preparedness. The conference examined barriers, objectives and possible solutions for public and community readiness. Everything was on the table: in fact, ironically, one of the major themes of the “Preparedness Summit” discussions was the idea of replacing (or recharacterizing) the term “preparedness” itself. According to the first of the report’s “Guiding Principles”:

“Preparedness is really about personal safety: People cannot relate to the term “preparedness” but can relate to the concept of personal safety. We may need to connect the message of preparedness to other safety/preparedness messages and change the way we deliver it as a result.”

The 23-page report is part of Phase 1 of the initiative, and its findings are being “shared with stakeholders to assist with message creation and public policy initiatives.” As FEMA leadership in Washington, D.C. continues work on a new strategic plan for citizen and community preparedness, the analysis and ideas offered at the Summit will undoubtedly be very useful.

The Summit focused on four main elements of citizen preparedness: Message, Messengers, Methods and Collaboration. Some selected “findings”:

Message: Our preparedness messages must be tangible, achievable and relevant to individuals; Focus on creating behavioral change rather than awareness.

Messengers: Before finding the right messenger, we must identify the audiences; the messengers must be individuals and groups that generate acceptance and trust

Methods: Establish a uniform preparedness branding, similar to corporate branding; use a comprehensive array of disciplines for input into a marketing campaign.

Collaboration: Identify the local and community groups that have the greatest leverage to prepare everyone; Establish an advisory board composed of disaster survivors.

There was a “Creative Thinking Exercise” during the Summit, which resulted in a terrific list of citizen preparedness proposals, some which have been discussed on this blog). A sampling:

* “Have a National Preparedness Day (instead of Preparedness Month)”

* “Follow-up. “‘Ok, I’ve got all this duct tape, but I don’t know what do with it.’”

*  ”Imitate a political field worker’s approach with leaders in each precinct getting neighbors involved.”

*  ”Exercise disaster plans using the public.”

* “Advancement requirement for schools, 6th and 10th grade, must participate in community preparedness service.”

* “Get Oprah to talk about preparedness”

Thanks to Brit Weber from Michigan State University for bringing the report to my attention. It is unfortunately not yet available online.

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Tags: Federal Emergency Management Administration · Preparedness Ideas · Preparedness Reports

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ana-Marie Jones // Nov 6, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    Changes are afoot in preparedness — and that is good news.

    We’ve found that the word “preparedness” isn’t the biggest problem, and shifting to “safety” isn’t the real answer. Trying to convince the majority of the public that they are not safe, and that they must do standardized recommended actions to be safe, is still an anxiety-producing, threat-based, negative message: You’ll still be fighting human nature with that approach.

    The bigger problem is that as a nation we have blanketed the whole country (not a target market) with a generic message of doom, framing preparedness as “the thing you have to do because really bad things like disasters happen.” Funders and government officials have designated particular messengers — FEMA, Red Cross, Fire Departments, etc. — whose true expertise is in “disaster” RESPONSE for the masses, NOT in PREPARING specific people or communities during “peace time.”

    Targets, Frames and Messengers matter. A lot.

    Imagine if we blanketed the whole country, framing weight loss as “the thing you need to do to look like Paris Hilton” and then only funded messengers from diet supplement companies to speak and provide services. We’d reach a tiny fraction of the populace — and not those who need the message most. And for those taking action, is it really sustainable? Isn’t this just like the results of the majority of our national preparedness efforts?

    Similarly, picture what would happen if we blanketed the nation with a generic message, framing sex as “the thing married people do when they want to have children” and then only funded and empowered religious organizations to offer sex education and related services. Targets, Frames and Messengers matter.

    Those scenarios would sound crazy to most people. But in this country, over the last 2 decades, we have spent many BILLIONS — in dollars, in-kind donations, and in human hours — on preparedness campaigns and programs that have not worked, were never sustainable, and we have insisted on using the same disaster-focused messengers.

    It is very exciting to read that FEMA and others are now seeing what nonprofits in the Bay Area have been pushing for over a decade now.

    At CARD, we’ve gone for extreme targeting of messages; crafting relentlessly positive, fear-free framing; and the shameless empowerment of agencies serving the most vulnerable people in our communities.

    For us, it’s not about getting ready for disasters — it’s about preparing communities to prosper!

    Thanks for the informative article John!


  • 2 FEMA Offers Ideas For Developing “Culture Of Preparedness” | Security Debrief - a blog of homeland security news and analysis // Nov 7, 2009 at 7:38 pm

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