Tag Archives: preparedness

Research about Communicating Risk becomes a Hard Reality: HardenUp.org

Post by: Kim Stephens


Image by P Shanks via Flickr

How do you create resilient communities?  It’s a tough question. Just yesterday I sent out a tweet about preparedness and the ubiquitous fact sheets that government agencies produce. Does anyone read them? If someone does read them, do they take action, e.g. prepare a  “go-kit,” or purchase insurance, etc.? Maybe, I mused, images of disasters would help encourage people to prepare. One of my colleagues @Cherylble (Cheryl Bledsoe)  answered “@Kim26stephens, you presume a natural interest in emergency management and I would tender ppl only interested if hazard is imminent #smem”.

An imminent hazard is certainly something that spurs action. Therefore, it would seem that if the public only knew and understood their risks (e.g. the frequency of hurricanes)  then they would take the necessary steps to mitigate those risks. But the research study “Communicating Actionable Risk for Terrorism and Other Hazards” – Michele M.Wood,1,∗ ,† Dennis S. Mileti et. al., published 10 June 2011,  found that it is much more important “… to emphasize the communication of preparedness actions (what to do about risk) rather than the risk itself.” They call this type of activity “communicating actionable risk“.  Another key finding, which is highly relevant in today’s connected world, was that “households in American are most likely to take steps to prepare themselves if they observe the preparations taken by others…”. I’m effectively boiling down an entire article to one paragraph so I suggest you read it,  however, it is interesting to note their conclusion:

“Communicating preparedness actions to motivate people to act is more direct than communicating risk and hoping that people will infer that they should take actions, and then, based on their inferences, act. This is a substantial departure from theoretical perspectivies and program practices that seek primarily to communicate risks so that people might, then, infer that action-taking is warranted.”

This research has been put into direct practice in Queensland Australia, an area of the world I seem to write about weekly. I am seriously in awe of the new website put together by Green Cross Australia in partnership with a veritable alphabet soup of government agencies, volunteer organizations, research institutions and even private industry called: “HardenUp: Protecting Queensland“. They do about a million things right here, but most importantly they do communicate actionable risk and then, from within the framework of the site, encourage people to share and promote their preparedness activities in a seamless manner.  As an aside, Green Cross Australia has a focus on climate change and helping people adapt to the potential changes that could occur, such as increased natural disasters and changing sea-level.

It’s not surprising that people will react if they see others preparing. If a storm is coming and I see my neighbor nailing up plywood on windows, I’m likely to think, “Hey, that looks like a good idea.”  However, how can we make more subtle preparedness activities visible and essentially social when there’s not a storm?  You guessed it: social media.  HardenUp offers multiple chances for citizens to share how they are preparing. When users create their plan (in a really nice interface, by they way) they are asked to post what they have done to their social network.

The “tips” section is also designed for sharing. It was envisioned, in part, as a way for people who lived through major disasters to communicate what they learned. In order to get the survivors input, however, some clarifying had to be done about the name of the site.

In a message to survivors, Jelenko Dragisic, CEO of Volunteering Qld and a HardenUp partner, stated that their intention for the website was definitely not to tell people who suffered losses from last year’s major flooding events to “Harden Up,” rather their intention was simply to communicate to the segment of the population that is not prepared. He also implored these survivors, who know the dangers all too well, to share their experiences.

 Many people think they can leave it up to insurance and government bodies and emergency organisations to come to their rescue, both literally and financially. Or they believe there’s nothing individuals can do when faces with a natural disaster. But those people are wrong…being prepared can make a hell of a difference. Knowing how to get out, having emergency supplies, being informed, really can be the difference between life and death…As people who’ve had direct experience of this, I invite you to share your stories with other Queenslanders.”

User-generated tips are also linked to social media to encourage peer engagement: visitors can view all of the tips and then click the “Like” button to instantly post their favorites it to their facebook page. Peer pressure is also subtly applied throughout their site, for example,  a “ticker” runs at the bottom of every page that states  the number of preparedness actions that have been taken to date: 10,530. I love the tag “What about you?” next to the number. In other words, according to a Green Cross representative, Jeremy Mansfield: “Harden-up is not about vulnerability, but a call to action to build self-resilience.”

Although preparedness is the goal, risk awareness is one of the objectives. The site designers have incorporated a database of over 150 years worth of community-based historical disaster data.  According to Jeremy:

One of the key differences of the site we feel is the ” Information asymmetry” providing people links to knowledge that contextualise  risks, preparedness/resilience and longer term issues around adaptation etc. We think it’s the first time a site has attempted to integrate 150 years of weather history along with regional climate history & trends served up at a suburb level.

I also really like how  “HardenUp” has been built to eventually become a one-stop shop for all emergency information. For example, the “In the event” Hub is turned on if there is a crisis and will house community and authority feeds and real-time maps. There is also a tab to search for volunteer opportunities.

I covet this site. I want one in my community, and I want to help build one for every state in the US. Am I being overly effusive?

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The December List: CRESA Leads the Way

Post by: Kim Stephens

My last contribution to the December List of top SMEM locations was NY’s Digital  Road Map, I immediately heard from readers–“Hey! That’s not fair. They have budgets that we can only fantasize about.” No one said that exact statement, but that was the sentiment.

As Jim Garrow’s 12 Day’s of SMEM post highlighted, it does not take a lot of money, or even talent, to start a social media campaign. First and foremost, it takes a purpose. He reminded us of how the CDC got started: the threat was H1N1; the goal was to reach as many citizens as possible; the objective was to inform people how to protect themselves; the vehicle was a conference room, a videocamera, and a free YouTube account.

The objective for most public safety  messaging is ultimately to change behavior.  But getting people to do something out-of-the-ordinary, such as packing a “go-kit,” is difficult. So for today’s entry I submit the Clark Regional Emergency Service Agency (CRESA) and their 30Days 30 Ways preparedness game as a top SMEM destination of choice.

The Rationale: This campaign  was launched for the first time last September for the 2010 Emergency Preparedness month and was done again, with improvements from lessons learned, for this year’s 2011 Preparedness Campaign. CRESA, thanks to their forward thinking Emergency Manager Cheryl Bledsoe (known in some circles as “that tech girl”, known in the #SMEM circle as “that brilliant woman”) is no stranger to social media, with a presence on Facebook and Twitter, including a Facebook widget on the CRESA homepage, and a blog. Cheryl herself also runs sm4em.org.

The Example: 30 Days 30 Ways was a game designed to not only give people information about emergency preparedness, but to compel them to act upon that information. Contestants were asked to complete 1-3 simple preparedness tasks every single day during the month of September . Game rules were posted that outlined 1. Who could play: answer, everyone; 2. How to play: instructions for each task and how to get credit were posted on the website and included such things as filling in an online forms and sharing information via social networks. I love Task 2 which had contestestants fill out a questionnaire asking “Who is Your Local Emergency Management Provider?”. And 3. What you would win. Most of the prizes were fairly small tokens, but clearly that’s not why people participated. It seems to me that people enjoy being part of a game that has “buzz”. Seeing tweets and posts about the events everyday served to peak interest and make people feel like they should sign-up or they were missing out. According to their own stats 2010, 608 preparedness tasks were completed. In 2011, nearly 2,000 preparedness questions & tasks were answered or completed.

I think this a wonderful example of how to engage your community with typically dull preparedness messages in a new and decidedly none-boring way. It will be fun to see how this game progresses each year. It would be interesting if schools used the contest to see which campus had the most prepared families. They could “win” bragging rights to proudly display a cool badge of preparedness on their websites and social media. Often, just a simple badge is enough to entice people to participate.

It seems with web and social networking  contests, organizations are only limited their own collective imagination and initiative.  We are all just grateful Cheryl and CRESA have shown us how to start.

SMEM December’s Best

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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Peer-to-Peer Preparedness: Entry to the FEMA Preparedness Challenge

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)

Contest Concept:

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.

How can University Emergency Managers use Social Media?

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Kim Stephens was invited to talk to the Emergency Management for Higher Education Final Grantee Meeting,  sponsored by the Department of Education, about the application of social media to emergency management. A copy of her slides (39 pages) is included here or in the Presentations and Papers section of this blog. The talk included information on the following topics:

  • How are Universities currently using social media?
  • How do we engage students in emergency preparedness through social media?
  • What are some social media best practices?
  • What is crowdsourcing and how could it be utilized to create interactive applications or multi-media tools in order to increase students’ emergency preparedness?
  • How is social media used for crisis response? How can personnel in the response community use these applications to increase our situational awareness? (examples from Ushahidi’s deployment in Haiti are included)
  • What tools exists to collect, filter, verify & aggregate data?