Being prepared for a disaster is just as important as having car or homeowners insurance. If residents are prepared for a disaster, they will be less of a burden on responders, who can focus on helping those in greater need. Sometimes, it takes a different approach to get the message across.
Here are a few ideas to take a different approach this year to encourage the citizens of your community to get involved with National Preparedness Month:
- Partner with local community emergency response teams (CERTs). These teams are comprised of citizens in your area who already are aware that being prepared is an important step to take. These teams can help you organize the other suggestions on this list.
- Hold a build-an-emergency-kit party. Invite citizens who do not have an emergency kit come to an informational meeting. Have handouts about emergency kit contents and bring a few kits to display as examples. Set up the kits in a row, ranging from a basic (one-person kit) all the way up to large, advanced kits for bigger families.
- Host workshops on designing a financial first aid kit. Some people have a basic kit full of supplies, but they rarely have all their financial and insurance information written down in a place they can take with them if they need to evacuate. There are a number of free online kits that guide you through organizing all the information you need. Check out http://www.ncua.gov/Publications/brochures/EmergencyFinancialFirstAidKit.pdf.
- Involve the local media in the planning process. Partner with local media to inform citizens of evacuation routes and make the maps accessible online. Ask local media outlets to post links to the evacuation maps on their Web sites.
- Host evacuation workshops. Partner with local churches and other mass-care facilities to involve more citizens in the operations of a mass-care facility. Encourage facilities to conduct a drill and “activate the shelter.” Use the opportunity to invite local citizens to prepare. Have police and fire vehicles on static display. Provide demonstrations and have emergency responders on hand to to answer questions. If your jurisdiction is identified as host jurisdiction for a sister city, establish exchange programs so that emergency planners and facility managers can meet to discuss issues.
- Provide relevant disaster preparedness information on your department/agency Web site. Ensure that this information is up to date and relevant by updating the Web site at least once a year. Develop a citizen advisory board to help you review the content and make recommendations for improvements.
- Partner with schools to have discussions with students about disaster preparedness. One of the reasons the “Turn Around – Don’t Drown” program has been successful is that it’s targeted towards adults and children. Obviously, the children do not drive, but they relay this information to parents. Follow the model of the “Stranger Danger” program and send emergency responders to classrooms to promote emergency preparedness.
- Develop PSAs for radio and TV. In order to make the PSA interesting to citizens, use local celebrities and/or media personalities in your efforts. What will make the most effective public service announcements? Think of the recent thetruth.com PSAs dedicated to encourage people to stop smoking. The advertisements are gritty and in your face, and people take notice because of the shock value.
- Partner with local merchants to set up an emergency kit display area in their store. Work with the merchants to create a list of emergency kit items and display all those items in the same place. It works much like the shopping lists that schools provide to local stores at the beginning of the school year.
- Set up awareness booths at local festivals/fairs/community events. Partner with local school districts to encourage poster design competitions. Display CERT information, display sample emergency kits and provide handouts for creating kits at home.
These are just a few examples of ways to get the community involved in preparing for disasters. Disaster kits are important no matter which part of the world you live in. As you know, disasters come in different forms in different parts of the country, but having a disaster kit can help in anywhere.
For specifics on building disaster kits and additional relevant information about disaster preparedness, visit http://http://www.ready.gov.
Brian Smith handles the public information and marketing efforts for TEEX’s Urban Search & Rescue (US&R) division. TEEX sponsors Texas’ elite urban search and rescue team, Texas Task Force 1, and Disaster City, a world-renowned, 52-acre urban search and rescue training facility.
The Texas Engineering Extension Service, or TEEX, is a member of the Texas A&M University System and offers hands-on, customized first responder training, homeland security exercises, technical assistance and technology transfer services impacting Texas and beyond. TEEX programs include fire services, homeland security, law enforcement, public works, safety and health, search and rescue and economic development.