During hurricane season and National Preparedness Month, state and local emergency management offices in communities around the U.S. will often work with private businesses to promote public readiness. Typical is North Carolina County Emergency Management Services hurricane project with the United Way in which:
Stores across the area are hosting a Hurricane Preparedness and Awareness event throughout the weekend.
There will be tables set up in all stores providing shelter information, preparation checklists, pet needs, as well as special needs and senior citizen registration forms.
These types of events with information distribution and registration set up near preparedness supply displays are a net positive as they do bring attention to the subject, the creation/replenishment of some shoppers’ emergency kits and occasionally fundraising for the non-profits. However, they end up being far short of what is necessary. That’s too bad since there is such great potential for what could be accomplished if the government, non-profit preparedness groups and businesses in the field really focused in a creative, sustained way on what they could do together to address the shortcomings in citizen disaster readiness.
The key is to restructure these kinds of events to give the public far more real, tangible and significant incentives (primarily financial but also logistical, educational and even entertainment) to prepare, which is something that business working with government and non-profits could do as part of an integrated, ongoing marketing campaign. The fact is that when we really want to change social behavior as a nation we do it through the carrot or the stick. The carrot is the preferable tool for this issue, but it needs to be used. And, thus far, incentives and vegetables have largely been missing from the preparedness effort, which helps explain the lack of progress.
There is a need to design and implement new citizen preparedness campaigns using strategic marketing partnerships between government and business with the goal of significantly increasing public readiness and societal resilience.
My proposal in a nutshell is that marketing campaigns and events be created at a national, state and local level to with government and non-profits working with companies in preparedness-related products businesses to offer major discounts tied to citizens taking actual readiness steps recommended by Ready.Gov and local emergency management offices.
It is a subject that I have thought a lot about, largely because I think that getting private sector far more involved in emergency citizen preparedness is a (maybe ‘the’) key to improving citizen readiness. I have also spoken extensively with government, non-profit and corporate officials about how they might work together on advance preparedness in a way that serves their (and the public’s) interest. My strong feeling is that to do so would not take much more than more attention and focus and would result in a win-win-win-win for those stakeholders and the citizenry.
At last week’s Red Cross Emergency Social Data Summit, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate underscored the role of the private sector in disasters. “We have to figure out how leverage government and private sector resources to change outcomes.”
He said private sector involvement should be seen as a “bottom line” issue rather than just a feel-good pr move. That’s clear after a disaster as companies try to re-open quickly to serve customers in the community. And, that business-case approach should be similarly applied when it comes to advance preparedness. The fact is that the more prepared the public is, the better it is for the private sector. Business is key because as Fugate told me last year, “the bully pulpit is not enough”.
Government officials realize they need significant private sector involvement to market preparedness to the public, but have been unable to pull such an integrated program together as marketing is not government’s expertise. However, public preparedness needs to be developed and marketed as a consumer brand. Particularly since Hurricane Katrina, the corporate sector has become far more involved in disaster policy, but it has focused mostly (and often very successfully) on post-event recovery and response. Yet, there has been little attention given to have the private sector help create pre-event initiatives and messaging that would prepare citizens and institutions for emergencies in advance.
Government citizen preparedness campaigns over the past few years have raised awareness but not significantly enough to change societal behavior. This has been due to a lack of reach, frequency and sustainability of the communication, and the public’s inability or unwillingness to follow the actions recommended. No matter how good and robust the message, behavior will not change unless actions being recommended are made more turn-key, familiar and affordable. Government officials ask the public to buy supplies, make plans and educate themselves without offering them enough assistance to accomplish these not insubstantial tasks (and are asked to do so with even less incentives than other public sector campaigns provide).
Yet, the current conditions would appear to be auspicious for such an new corporate/government partnership to take on preparedness: the public is interested in becoming more prepared; major corporations are committed to the disaster issue and can offer products, resources and capacity. For them, preparedness provides excellent opportunity to ‘do good and do well’ increasing store traffic and selling products while improving community resilience; and non profit preparedness groups, most prominently the American Red Cross, have the experience and credibility to facilitate this partnership. And, as mentioned above, a priority of FEMA Administrator Fugate is to get the private sector involved in a way to “change outcomes”. Yet focus, coordination and leadership are still necessary “to connect the dots” for each stakeholder.
The range of disaster preparedness products from manufacturing companies that can be involved are endless: Bottled Water, Flashlights; Wireless Phones, Radios; Energy Bars; Canned Food; First Aid Kits. On the retail side, it can involve any store that sells these products, particularly ‘big box’ outlets and supermarkets. The campaign would also involve corporate trade groups, such as the Wireless Foundation and the Business Roundtable, which have been very involved in getting their members involved in disaster issues.
An example of the type of preparedness event I’m thinking about would include “In-Store Workshops” but with significant discounts and giveaways tied to information and actual completion of readiness steps:
* Big-Box/Grocery Stores Supply Kit Creation-Replenishment – This would be similar to the current preparedness in-store events. However, they would be far more involved and would offer consumers more benefits and assistance for coming in. There would be a specific area where employees along with local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and Red Cross volunteers would be answering readiness questions.
Advertisements in advance would invite individuals and families come in with emergency communications plans (or fill them out in the store) and in return they would receive a significant discount on supplies or free products (ie. if you purchase a case of bottled water, you would get your emergency supply thrown in). And if a customer signed up to volunteer to CERT or Red Cross Disaster Services volunteer, they would get a bigger discount.
In addition, customers would be provided branded bags so adults — and kids — can make/replenish their own ‘go-bag’ (if they didn’t want to buy a pre-made kit). Again, the stores would discount the supplies significantly and CERT, Red Cross and government officials would be there to answer questions.
* Mobile Phone Retail Outlets – The mobile communications companies are eager to show their value of their products to customers in emergencies so their retail stores would be excellent settings for preparedness events/trainings. Among the activities that could be set up: helping people register for government emergency text/e-mail alerts. I’d also like to see a event/photo-op with kids teaching their parents about texting and its role in an emergency. Here again, the companies would offer customers extra free text/phone minutes for completing the preparedness steps (I’d also like to see discounts on extra batteries though the companies do make excellent margins on the extras.)
I also think this setting would be a good place for people to learn about how the role of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to help people in a crisis. can be very usewith be a place for families and friend also and families and friends setting up social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to teach how they can be used before and during emergencies.
Government could also increase the effectiveness of such an initiative by creating tax-free preparedness product periods as Virginia and Louisiana have (and we’re trying to do here in New York), which add more financial incentives, increase store buy-in and garner more media attention for preparedness.
The key is to pull all of these stakeholders together — connecting the information with accessible, useful and affordable products along with expert and peer-to-peer guidance –in a sustained, integrated way. I will be continuing to work on these partnership ideas and would be interested in any thoughts from readers.