Tag Archives: Risk

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?

Related Links

How do we reach young people with disaster info? Think mobile.

Post by Kim Stephens

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:

  1. Register with CREW to be an emergency volunteer;
  2. See current emergency volunteering opportunities;
  3. Access all the key contacts for emergencies in one place and save your own emergency contacts;
  4. Watch short disaster preparedness and response videos;
  5. Find out what you need to have in your emergency stay/go kit (and check them off when you’ve got them);
  6. Read the latest news from www.emergencyvolunteering.com.au.