When Volunteering Queensland wanted to develop a “Disaster App” that also addressed the needs of young people, developers took a novel approach: they asked youths what they wanted. Specifically they conducted in-depth research through a series of facilitated workshops in a process they called “participatory data collection.” They found that the App “must be flexible, adaptive and youth-targeted in terms of content, language, imagery and interaction and importantly, stream real-time, localised information. The research has also revealed the need for a streamlined source of information and directory of services and resources that young people can easily engage with.” The analysis was led by Anthony Frangi of the School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Queensland and it resulted in the report titled: Strengthening Youth Resilience to Natural Disaster with Smartphone Technology.
I found this report fascinating since it dovetails almost the exact same issues we encounter in the U.S., although I know of no similar research that asks American youths what they would like to see in a disaster App. We tend to take a one-size fits all approach. However, it is interesting to note that for the most part, the youths that participated detailed the same kinds of information requirements as adults. One exception, however, is possibly in how they determine whether or not they will volunteer. As I’ve seen with my own teens, they want to volunteer, but only if people from their friend network are also participating.
This report is also valuable in terms of the cited research they provide as background information. For instance, when discussing resilience as it pertains to young people they state:
… youth have particular needs and different means of communicating, and as bigger risk-takers than their adult counterparts are often perceived as requiring additional support, including peer, and role models for safety behaviour. Additionally, young people may also require assistance post events, in order to fully ‘process’ the events around them. Disaster management often assumes young people are ‘passive’ with little role in communicating risks or preventing and responding to disasters; with such responsibilities awarded to the grown-ups; and certainly it is an under-researched area. Choong et al (2008) counters this, arguing that youth have great capacity to play positive and important roles in disaster resilience, including being a part of the knowledge making processes – before, during and after disasters, and engaging in positions of leadership and responsibility within the community and among peers.”
This report is certainly one to bookmark if your agency is considering developing an App, I’ve already put it in my list of resources. By the way, here’s the App they eventually created. According to their website the App allows people to do following:
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.
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:
the new goal seems heavily tilted toward counter-terrorism;
the proposed preparedness architecture seems mostly a matter of preparing-to-respond; (emphasis added)
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:
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).
The two top vote-getting ingredients from each category were then included in a “black box” of available ingredients.
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.
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:
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);
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!”);
Metrics can be used to measure the level of participation and awareness of the information.
Post and Challenge Entry by: Kim Stephens and Scott Reuter
Problem: Engaging teens with emergency preparedness information.
High school students often do not concern themselves with thoughts of disaster preparedness, unless of course, they have personally lived through one. The problem of reaching teens with emergency preparedness information can be addressed by making the content relevant and personal to their lives: But how?
Teens sharing stories about living through or preparing for an imminent disaster would encourage others, at a minimum, to think about hazards in their area, and at best, to help and encourage their families to prepare for those hazards. The process of story-sharing would take advantage of the fact that teens seem to be most interested in information/content that comes from other teens. Kids have stories to tell: teens living in a high hurricane-risk area would have mostly likely evacuated or prepared to evacuate at some point in their lives, or kids in an earthquake regions might have experienced tremors and had to attach bookshelves to their walls.
But how do we encourage kids to share these stories in a relevant and somewhat structured way that will be seen by other teens as “cool”?
Solution: Create a scholarship contest to foster the development of student-produced disaster preparedness information in a multi-media format for national distribution.
Contest Objective: 1. Reach as many teens as possible with student-created content.
Contest Objective 2: To unleash student creativity. (Similar to how this FEMA Challenge has unleashed citizen creativity)
1. Use existing media outlets in schools, such as Channel One News or similar channel designed for high school distribution, to both announce the contest and the end result. This site, in particular, has many benefits:
It already has age-appropriate information, interactive games and quizzes about natural disasters.
The site has a “You Tell It” section for students to submit videos.
The site also has a large social media fan base of students with over 47,000 fans on their facebook page.
There is information on disasters and lesson plans for teachers.
2. Students would be encouraged to submit a video to the “you-tell-it” section. The video would be judged on several criteria, such as:
Does the video help others understand what it’s like to be in a disaster?
Does the video show others how to prepare for a similar disaster?
Does the video help create awareness that training for disasters makes you more likely to take actions that can save your life – and others?
However, it should be noted: The more criteria the more stifling, therefore, standards will need to be carefully crafted.
3. Include popularity of video as 50% of the score. This is important for several reasons:
If students need others to view the video in order to win, they will pass the URL to their peers through existing social networks, their personal facebook pages, YouTube, twitter, etc.
Although there is no guarantee that the videos will go viral, there is a much greater chance of widespread viewership if popular vote is part of the award equation.
4. Award the school that wins the contest with scholarship funds that will be parceled out by the school’s administration. This will:
encourage schools to participate and encourage them to help students with the project.
allow for the schools to boast about the result (vs. an individual) and therefore, encourage even more viewership.
allow for easier dissemination of the award.
We’ll see how well this entry does in the contest. If it doesn’t win, I still believe it is a good concept that should be pursued.