Where to begin? How does someone who has dedicated the better part of the past 5 years to family disaster preparedness come to terms with the conclusion that people who prepare will always represent such a tiny minority? In this week’s CB2, I’ll break from the oil spill temporarily to present an issue that’s been weighing heavily on my mind.
It started in 2005 when I moved from the northeast down to Florida to find myself in the middle of one of the worst hurricane seasons on record, watching the devastation that Katrina, Rita and others unleashed upon the Gulf. Having no idea what to do or how to prepare, I naturally went to the Internet to find answers. Ready.gov five years ago was weak at best, and there wasn’t anything better to go by. For me and co-worker Peter Loui, that was the inspiration to make something better. With that, OneStorm.org was born.
Today, after years of continued money and effort, I believe we’re the best preparedness resource online, not to mention the #1 result on Google for “hurricane plan” (maybe #3 depending where you live) and guess what? It doesn’t mean much. I don’t know if it’s more embarrassing or scary how low traffic is for the top result on such an important topic. And we’re not alone.
The Great Hurricane Blowout, Sponsored by Kohler, State Farm, Home Depot, ourselves and others – with spokesperson Morgan Freeman! – has only amassed under 1,400 members this year. The official Texas preparedness campaign READY OR NOT ceased its interactive planning tools and promotion after statewide TV, radio, and online advertising yielded only some 6,000 members statewide over a three year period. Year after year I’ve seen sponsorships pulled, interest dwindle, and fewer new projects starting. I’ve focused on hurricanes here, but the experience is similar for flooding, earthquake, wildfires, terrorism and other crises.
So I wonder, what is the future of online preparedness and what should government’s role be? Could we be doing better, or is too big of an uphill battle? Do you have any success stories to share?
This reflection is only valuable if I can voice some takeaways from the situation. So here we go:
- Accept that most people in your community (for government, people you represent) are not prepared for a crisis and expect them to look to you for their basic needs.
- Make preparedness resources accessible to them anyway, because those who seek it out will utilize it. Even if 1% of the population prepares, crisis response just got 1% easier.
- If we inherently don’t prepare (“It will never happen to me”), we need to incentivize preparedness. Insurance discounts, tax-free shopping days, coupons for completing hazard plans, and other carrots.
- Focus on the kids. Teach preparedness in elementary schools (especially in disaster-prone areas) and assign homework to go over the family’s emergency plan at home.
Read Last Week’s CB2: Understanding the BP Relief Wells.
About Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett is a self-proclaimed emergency management innovator who is trying to make government better by improving citizen preparedness and crisis communications. He’s a graduate of Wharton with a master’s from Harvard with in “Technology, Innovation, Education.” His portfolio of companies and former projects include OneStorm Hurricane Preparedness, ReadyTown, GovLive, TexasPrepares and America’s Emergency Network. Chris was the recipient of FL Governor Crist’s 2008 Public Information Award. He lives in St. Petersburg, FL, loves to fish, and has been spotted sharing a pint with GovLoop Founder Steve Ressler in Tampa.