September was National Disaster Preparedness Month. Many emergency management programs are now working on other mission areas that might include disaster planning or exercises. But the month of emphasis on preparedness is over, and we won’t concentrate on the topic again until next year.
Is this the right thing to do? Should we have one month of preparedness and 11 months of maintenance messaging on the topic of becoming prepared for disasters? We need to change this mentality.
No matter how prepared you become as a single government or coalition of governments, you can’t overcome the lack of disaster preparedness by your general population if the event is catastrophic. No matter how many government resources you throw at problems, there isn’t enough mutual aid or Emergency Management Assistance Compact aid to overcome the hole that has been dug by having your citizens and businesses unprepared for a disaster.
While the general message in the past has been to become prepared for three days or 72 hours, most people, emergency managers included, are not ready to be on their own for even three hours. I don’t believe the national surveys that tout that upward of 30 to 40 percent of the general population is prepared for a disaster. It just can’t be true based on my own personal experience in talking with individuals and families.
What’s needed to overcome this woeful lack of disaster preparedness is a national-level campaign that is continuous and never-ending in encouraging and motivating people to become prepared for the next disaster. And three days is not enough.
Look at how Coca-Cola is advertised. We know Coke is sold using polar bears and Santa Claus as marketing mascots, and the symbol of Coke is emblazoned on our brains so that we can mentally recall what the logo looks like.
And yet we will keep seeing Coca-Cola advertised continuously using television, radio, billboards, magazine ads, bus signs, the Internet and yes, even social media because otherwise people won’t buy it.
About a month ago, I heard a professional public relations leader explain that his agency did what it could with the funding it was given. He remarked that it would take millions of dollars to do a national advertising campaign like major corporations do.
OK, let’s do some basic math — it’s been 10 years since the advent of homeland security grants. Those averaged $3.2 billion per year for state and local preparedness. So we’ve spent roughly $32 billion on “stuff” and very little on disaster preparedness messaging. I fought tooth and nail to get funds allocated to that mission for my own homeland security region. We got some $2.5 million over a number of years that we translated into more than $5 million in advertising on television, radio, billboards and buses in a partnership with the Seattle Mariners baseball team.
What if, instead of trying to get the Ad Council to support disaster preparedness messaging, we worked with the national networks to buy air time and get our disaster preparedness message to everyone in the U.S? Not for a month, but continuously. There could be major ad buys in national magazines, we could target women and children to motivate them to become prepared for disasters and to maintain a level of preparedness for their own welfare and that of their community. This isn’t rocket science — we know how to do it. We have the messages, the means and the wherewithal to make a huge impact for disaster preparedness.
We need to sell disaster preparedness like they sell Coca-Cola.