Using Social Networking to Foster Community Preparedness and Participation

Post by: Kim Stephens

How are you providing information to your community members about disaster preparedness?  I met an Emergency Manager at a recent conference and he answered this question confidently. “We are having an event at the library to teach individuals and families how to prepare.” Then he adds, not so confidently, “We had a similar event about six months ago, and I was the only person who showed up.” I asked him how he was advertising. He indicated he was putting information in the local newspaper and distributing it to local senior centers. I said, “Oh, so your target audience is elderly individuals?” “No.” he replied, “We are targeting everyone in the community: families, seniors, as well as young-single people. Everyone needs this information.” He stopped to think for a second, and I could see the realization cross his face. Then he said, “I’m not going to have anyone show up again. Am I?” Nope.

National Goals

The need to provide information to citizens to help them prepare has been outlined in national guidance for years. The 2007 Target Capabilities List has a “common capability” entitled “Community Preparedness and Participation.” The desired outcome “…everyone in America is fully aware, trained, and practiced on how to prevent, protect/mitigate, prepare for, and respond to all threats and hazards.”  The new  National Preparedness Goal , called for in the Presidential Policy Directive 8 (PPD-8), defines success as:

“A secure and resilient Nation with the capabilities required across the whole community to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the threats and hazards that pose the greatest risk.”

This new goal has come under some criticism. Read these great comments on the Goal by the Homeland Security Policy Institute.  Other important comments were made on the Homeland Security Watch Blog. I also agree with their assessments:

  1. the new goal seems heavily tilted toward counter-terrorism;
  2.  the proposed preparedness architecture seems mostly a matter of preparing-to-respond; (emphasis added)
  3. the core capabilities and performance measures as currently articulated would not substantially enhance the commitment of the whole community to the preparedness mission.

Community Outreach and Collaboration

The criticism that the new Goal does not “enhance the commitment of the whole community” I think is a great point. From my perspective, the entire framework assumes somewhat of a passive role for citizens. This, however, seems contrary to the current way people are engaging with the world and with information. Frank Rose, a long-time Wired editor, writes in his book “The Art of Immersion”

“NOT LONG AGO WE WERE SPECTATORS, passive consumers of mass media. Now, on YouTube and blogs and Facebook and Twitter, we are media… No longer content in our traditional role as couch potatoes, we approach television shows, movies, even advertising as invitations to participate—as experiences to immerse ourselves in at will.”

 Although Mr. Rose’s book’s main audience is intended to be the entertainment industry or people in “marketing,” we in the emergency management community and the public sector need to take notice. Trying to get the public to pay attention to preparedness messages requires not good, but excellent marketing skills. Furthermore, citizens don’t necessarily want to be “marketed” to at all. In this “Age of Collaboration”  people expect to be provided opportunities to engage and participate (read “MarcoWikinomics” by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams).

Using Social Networking for Preparedness Messages

Let’s get back to our guy with an empty library room and a table-full of well-intentioned “How to Prepare for a Disaster” handouts.  Every Emergency Manager understands that ensuring citizens are prepared is a primary function of their job. But it is clear a new more horizontal/participatory model for the distribution of that  information is needed.  Arizona’s Emergency Information Network (of the Arizona State Emergency Management Office) provides a great example of how to engage the community in that fashion.

During September’s National Preparedness Month  @AZEIN decided that they would not distribute the normal “get prepared–make a kit”  campaign. Rather they conducted a competition in conjunction with Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, called the “Emergency Kit Cook-off“.  The contest had 4 components:

  1. They asked the public to vote for their top two choices of shelf-stable foods from four categories (proteins; starches, grain and nuts; fruits and vegetables; and beverages).
  2.  The two top vote-getting ingredients from each category were then included in a “black box” of available ingredients.
  3. People were then  challenged to create a blue-ribbon “but easy-to-follow” recipe from the foods in the black box. They stated  “We’re not looking for gourmet cuisine, but we’re also not looking for simple PB and crackers.” They encouraged people to “[g]et creative with the ingredients and create a hot or cold dish that you’d eat if asked to shelter in place.” Participants were not allowed to use anything that required electricity, but could use water. A few pantry items, such as condiments and spices were also allowed.
  4. Le Cordon Bleu Chef, Jon-Paul Hutchins, then re-created the dishes using the winning recipes and  ingredients on a local, live morning television news show (see video below).

Social networking was used throughout this competition as a tool for promotion and interaction with participants (as well as other curious emergency managers from across the country). They had a multilayered, multi-media information dissemination approach, ensuring maximum viewership: a blog site was established that connected to their main website (their website also displays their twitter feed); facebook and twitter accounts were used to promote the contest from August when it started to the end in October; a widget was created that allows for AZEIN’s twitter feed to be displayed on other people’s homepages or blogs (see above pic); the TV show appearance was placed on  Youtube.

Some EMs indicate that they will not use social networking because not all of their citizens have access to, or desire to use the technology. However, Arizona’s  approach provides a perfect example of how social media are not the end to a means, but rather a means to an end. Furthermore, if we were to simply count the number of people that actually participated in the Cook-off we would also miss the point.  In “The Art of Immersion” Frank Rose points at that not all of your audience will do all of the activities. He uses a triangle model to describe levels of engagement. Some people will be very excited and do all of the activities, a lot of people will probably just see some of the public relations content via social networks, and most might just catch the TV appearance alone. Nonetheless, each component is an important feature, working together to make the campaign a success by reaching the maximum number of citizens.

The use of social networks for this purpose provides three other advantages:

  1. People can participate on their own time from their own home, or from anywhere if they are accessing the content via a smartphone (no need to go to the library on a week night after a long day of work);
  2. People will share their experience via their own social networks (“Hey, I just submitted the award winning recipe–watch them cook it on Friday morning!”);
  3. Metrics can be used to measure the level of participation and awareness of the information.

Thanks to AZEIN for the information!

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4 responses to “Using Social Networking to Foster Community Preparedness and Participation

  1. Pingback: Using Social Networking to Foster Community Preparedness and … | Emergency

  2. Pingback: Fruit Heights to Hold Emergency Preparedness Class | Fruit Heights Friends

  3. Pingback: YouTube Can Help Spread Emergency Preparedness Messages | idisaster 2.0

  4. Pingback: YouTube Can Help Spread Emergency Preparedness Messages | #UASI

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