I wanted to mention two events from this past weekend, which I think offer a lesson for citizen preparedness: Â The first was a family preparedness event held by the American Red Cross at Fort Belvoir just outside WashingtonÂ in which free readiness kits and other emergency supplies were distributed to 1100 military families. At the other one, held on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, the New York City Department of TransportationÂ gave away free bicycle helmets in an effort to promote bike safety.Â Both are terrific ideas, and they highlight the role of ‘carrots’ or incentives (including free stuff) in changing social behavior whether it be preparedness or bike safety.
According to a story on the Red Cross website about the Ft. Belvoir gathering:
Those participating in the preparedness event received Red Cross bags filled with important items such as a mini lantern, glow sticks, an Eton emergency radio, Red Cross vintage first aid kit, emergency water storage system, multipurpose tool and a family guide to first aid.
In addition, senior preparedness leaders from the Red Cross had a table with personal itemsâ€”pet food, toothbrushes, snacks and childrenâ€™s toysâ€”to remind people of the kinds of things they might want to take if they had to evacuate due to an emergency or disaster. They reminded participants of the need to bring prescriptions as well as extra cash to use in the event that ATMs are not working due to power failures.
Now, there is no group that deserves free preparedness supplies than military families. But the fact that they are receiving emergency kits gratis underlines the challenge of getting the rest of the public to purchase theirs.
The Governor’s Island bike helmet giveaway is one of a series of safety events held by the City’s Department of Transportation. It is another example of a public service campaign that uses an incentive (as part of a win-win partnership with the private sector) to accomplish its goal.
However, to date, governments have tried to achieve citizen preparedness largely without any carrots or sticks. It’s just not realistic. We need to integrate incentives — such as Ft.Belvoir-type events — into readiness programs for the broader Â public.
A military family at Saturday’s AmericanÂ Red Cross preparedness event at Ft. Belvoir (Photo: Daniel Cima)