Austin, Texas, employs popular culture to encourage the public to prepare for an emergency.
Spreading the emergency preparedness message to the whole community can seem like a daunting task, but Austin, Texas, is getting creative to get the word out. Last week about 50 people gathered as part of a flash mob that danced at City Hall Plaza to encourage people to prepare for the worst.
While dancing isn’t usually linked to emergency management agencies and their public awareness activities, the song’s lyrics — which include “This is my plan, and I’m ready to take action. I’m prepared.” — helped spread an important message while making it fun for residents to think about personal preparedness.
Candice Wade Cooper, community preparedness manager for Austin’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (HSEM), came up with the idea after participating in a flash mob last year for the premier of the movie Footloose. She found the song, called This Is My Plan, online and the office purchased the rights to it. Cooper then reached out to Dance Austin Studio, the choreographer that designed the Footloose flash mob, to see if it would assist with the flash mob for preparedness.
“We were looking for creative ways to raise awareness about emergency preparedness,” she said. “We found that most of the time individuals do not think about preparing for an emergency unless there is a disaster actually occurring or about to happen.”
It was estimated that 50 people danced during the May 30 event, and Cooper said the flash mob was the Austin HSEM’s most successful campaign because it reached more than 150,000 people. To get that number, the office pulled analytics from YouTube and Facebook as well as the media outlets that covered the event. “We received a lot of community buzz about it,” Wade Cooper said.
The city’s website featured videos that taught the dance in addition to a free in-person class, according to the HSEM website.
And the flash mob isn’t the only out-of-the-box way that Austin is encouraging its residents to prepare for an emergency. Wade Cooper said HSEM is launching a “gamification project” later this month that will use game-play mechanics, like awarding points, to encourage people to take preparedness training among other goals. The Preparedness Challenge will first be rolled out internally to city employees for about six months before being made available to the public.
“We have about 18 or 19 different preparedness quests in which they would take training classes, download preparedness books, and prepare themselves and their families by snapping a picture of their go kit and posting it on our website,” Cooper said.
Participants will be awarded points for completing quests and attending preparedness events that they will be able to exchange for prizes.
Austin HSEM also is using the Nintendo Wii gaming system to teach children about preparedness through a simulation of a disaster in a city. Children use the high-tech tool during annual open houses and the office’s kids day.
The city also created the Ready Freddie mascot (which made an appearance during the flash mob) as part of the “Too Prepared to Be Scared” campaign. Wade Cooper said 30,000 Freddie and Friends kits have been distributed to children as another method for spreading the message.
For its preparedness outreach efforts, Austin HSEM received the award for Outstanding Educational Program of 2012 by the National Urban Area Association Inc. in partnership with Emergency Management magazine in May.