PERSPECTIVE: Make Emergency Preparedness Edutainment Viral to Reach Everyone

National Preparedness Month got me thinking: How can we increase preparedness within our community? I asked 20 or so of my friends (people in their late 20s to early 30s) about what they had done to prepare for emergencies, and if they had any emergency plans made for their homes; out of those asked, no one did. Some stated they had candles and flashlights, or had had a large reserve of canned goods, but no one had drafted a written plan for their household, and most of them had not even discussed preparedness topics amongst other members of their household. Of those renting, many were not even aware of where their fire extinguisher was kept in the house, or when the batteries in their smoke alarms were last changed. In all fairness, these are not things I would probably be thinking about, either, were I not engaged in the field of disaster and emergency management.

I started to realize these problems may have to do with the way preparedness education is being delivered. While attending public school, drills to practice evacuations or lockdowns were frequently held. These drills addressed preparedness for certain events such as tornadoes and severe thunderstorms (popular in my area), fires, and I believe we did a trial lockdown for “suspicious person” a few times as well, but even those practices do not teach children to deal with a large plethora of other events. Once entering the professional world, the places I worked would occasionally have well-rehearsed fire drills and people knew the muster points and where to access an incident report – but, again, the teachings of those institutions ended there. The sports and social clubs I have been a part of also have done little to educate about emergencies, other than having a map of evacuation routes posted near the door. If our jobs are not teaching preparedness, nor are the facilities where we perform our hobbies, where will people receive this education?

Since I don’t think it is very likely that every individual living in the country will take the initiative to research for themselves what to do in the event of an emergency or disaster, I do believe that some form of public education is necessary and should be pushed, to prevent loss of life, damage to property, and impairments to how we conduct business and the basic functions of our lives. Ad space on television and radio often requires funding, and I do not believe there are resources always available to push in-person education sessions at every sports arena, community center, and other places where people gather. This would take an incredible number of volunteers and educators to disperse the message. My proposal instead is to turn to social media.

Last year in the United States, 79 percent of people had social media profiles (Clement, 2019). Social media has incredible reach. Rebecca and Genevieve Williams successfully utilized Facebook following the 2011 Joplin tornado to coordinate resources, people, and volunteers, as well as keep people updated. This was just one use of social media. There is also the use of social media for marketing. It has been used previously for spreading education as well. I think most readers will have heard the phrase “going viral”; the impact of viral media is exponential exposure. One person sees something, shares it with their friends, who share it with their friends and so on. According to Digital Information World, this year Facebook and YouTube remain the most popular social media platforms. Since many social media phenomena are short-lived, going viral may mean getting ahead of a trend, or jumping on it at the height of its popularity. Other media platforms that utilize algorithms to push content are popular as well, such as Instagram (image-based), and TikTok, which produces short videos so it’s easy to put out a message in a format that only requires a brief moment of attention from the viewer. Image- and video-sharing platforms such as Imgur and TikTok have made it easy to popularize a message through attaching it to a meme.

Of particular interest as an educational tool, TikTok was one of the most popular social media platforms of 2018, and the app has been downloaded more than one billion times (Yao, 2019). Several songs hit the Billboard top 100 list due to their popularity on this platform, which also pays users in “likes,” a form of social capital. Using apps like this can be a fun and rewarding experience.

My recommendation, using the above information, is that we try to spread emergency preparedness information through edutainment. We can use the viral nature of social media and meme generation to advance public preparedness to make our society safer. This may involve branching out and being a little bit ridiculous at times, but I really look forward to seeing how we use media in 2019 to make the world a better place.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Michelle Pratt is a professional Human Ecologist and current intern to Rich Serino, Distinguished Senior Fellow Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, National Preparedness Leadership Initiative. She is currently a student of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology for Disaster and Emergency Management, and works for the provincial health provider in her home province. Besides being a student, she is also a community volunteer for education projects related to sexual consent and personal safety.

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