September has been designated national preparedness month by FEMA… so what
Nobody knows (possibly nobody cares) that National Preparedness Month even exists.
The heart of the national preparedness month effort is an offshoot of FEMA/Department of Homeland Security using the website ready.gov. The website encourages us to prepare, plan, and stay informed. We're told to do this all we need to do is to get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Throughout the website, again, at the heart of the national preparedness month effort is a sprinkling of information tips for the public and for responders. Albeit a little oversimplified, FEMA presents a fairly decent message for the public. The information for responders is minimal at best.
Despite the urging to prepare, plan, stay informed; and to get a kit, make a plan, and be informed, the efforts of national preparedness month initiative to little to entice members of the public to do any of that. I believe one of the key reasons that the general public remains unaware of initiatives like this is because the focus on Homeland Security… security equating to badges and guns. As of said before, Homeland Security is a failing model for preparedness. We have to shift the focus back to a more neutral preparedness ground. That is, to be able to look at and prepare for natural, man-made, technological, and intentional events.
A recent earthquake that impacted a majority of the East Coast and was quickly followed by hurricane Irene was a stark reminder of our vulnerability to natural events. Carbon monoxide deaths (which are described by many as completely avoidable) continue to climb in the United States. Consumer-Level hazardous materials events and acts involving use of consumer level hazardous materials with intent to harm self and others is seen as a growing threat. Although these events may have gotten some media attention they don't typically appear in one's mind when we think about homeland security. Yet, these events are quite capable of causing harm to people and infrastructure on par with any
Just like the other specialty areas that have their own special “day” or “month” the general public outside of that specialty area remains unaware of the national preparedness month effort. Further, what useful information is on the ready.gov website goes unnoticed by most. Bottom line is, the National Preparedness Month initiative remains stagnant and has little if any impact on improving civilian readiness.
FEMA could learn a lot from successful initiatives such as fire prevention week. Fire prevention week has historically involved a reasonable media campaign as well as some type of open house affair at a local fire station. Key to success is that some officials and the local community are engaged in spreading the word and promoting action among individuals, families, and communities. The combination of a marketable media campaign along with their open house ability brings the community together and puts the information provided into a tangible format. National Preparedness Month efforts lack that tangible format and community leadership effort.
Despite being around since 2002, ready.gov and National Preparedness Months have done little more than provide information on a website. While they do provide decent public service announcements in the form of videos and audio clips, there is little effort to get the general public to turn this information into action.
So, I guess it now becomes our responsibility (perhaps it always has been) to get the message out to the public about the national preparedness month initiative. It will also be our responsibility to turn that information into action.
I recommend that everyone visit ready.gov and explore the content there. Become familiar with what the site in the initiative has to offer. Then take that information and turn it into something useful… that is, explore ways it can benefit your community. Maybe coupling national preparedness month activities with existing awareness topics such as fire prevention week, EMS week, or any other specialty area that has their own “holiday” would be a good place to start. That might be a good place for the folks at FEMA to start marketing National Preparedness Month as well.