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Selling the Preparedness Mindset

A recent comment got my attention; it should get yours, too. 


Aaron Marks posted a comment in response to No surprises in Sandy's wake that will hit home for many in emergency management as we struggle to make a successful pitch for preparedness. Although his comment specific to business and commercial preparedness, I think the spirit of the post can be applied to the public/civilian.

Aaron Marks writes:

For most of the people who follow MJ you're preaching to the choir here. The million dollar question is how do we fix it? 

I spend most of my time these days trying to convince business owners to invest in preparedness - with extremely limited success. Most of the decision-makers and so-called leaders out there just don't want to acknowledge that there is an issue because once they acknowledge it there may be liability associated with failing to do something about it. How do we convince 'the massess' that preparedness is an INVESTMENT and not a cost?

Why is preparedness such a hard topic to sell?

We should put the word sell in parenthesis. We can be selling the idea of preparedness or selling a product or service related to preparedness, or both. In there may be the problem. We’re trying to convince people in the community, business owners, public officials, or civilians that a certain action needs to be taken when most of those we’re selling to haven’t ever experienced any kind of serious event. And they don’t think they ever will. Many individuals and business owners have used phrases like “that’s what I have insurance for” when rationalizing their lack of preparedness.

What we’re “selling” is the preparedness mindset.

Persuading anyone to buy or do something they don’t think they need is an extraordinary uphill trek. After terrorist attacks and natural disasters woke us from the slumber of complacency, we’re eager to hit the snooze alarm and get back to business as usual. Or at least back to business of the new normal...whatever that may be.

The sad and unrelenting fact is that in the face terrorism, pandemics, and devastating natural disasters, many continue to believe that “its not going to happen to me.” In June, 2008, we wrote about this in the posting In search of preparedness in America. That post generated considerable discussion. As I wrote then “governments seem to have lacked the stamina to keep up with preparedness...” and I continue to believe that today. The response to and recovery from Hurricane Sandy continue to make my point here in 2012. You’d think that with Sandy fresh in our minds that preparedness would sell itself.

The liability of acknowledgment.

We also described an interesting, yet disturbing trend in October, 2010 (see Cassandra Paradox)  - We’ll call it the Theory of Successful Blame.
“Emergency planners, managers, and responders are responsible for actions taken (or not) before, during, and after disaster situations. While emergency planners, managers and responder should be held accountable for their performance during crisis or the performance of their planning or training preparedness, it seems that the need to have a scapegoat overpowers the reality that many of the disaster situations are fluid and may not evolve as predicted. Unreasonable expectations need to hold someone accountable when an unpredictable situation goes astray.”
The point is that acknowledged or not, someone is going to be held accountable. The preparedness liability exists and will remain on someones shoulders. A review of of the Hurricane Katrina/Tenent Health decision is a good reminder of this.

How do we convince the masses?

What we should be doing is informing and keeping it simple. Informing that preparedness is a cost effective in financial and life safety terms. We can provide information and rationale that may be helpful in bringing awareness to the forefront.

E. L. Quarantelli (University of Delaware Disaster Research Center) is my most cherished resource on emergency management teaching. In his paper More and Worse Disasters in the Future (1991); Quarantelli provides us with decent talking points, if not ammunition, to get people thinking about their need to embrace preparedness (click here for PDF).

For example, Quarantelli suggests that:
  • Natural disasters will increasingly generate technological disasters
  • Old kinds of natural disaster agents will simply have more hit and along some lines more vulnerable populations to impact
  • There are technological advances that add complexity to old threats
  • Many of the future threats or risks have high catastrophic potentials by way of the casualties or kinds of injuries they may generate
  • Some of the future disasters while occasioning relatively few casualties or physical damage will be very economically costly or socially disruptive
Perhaps the most poignant statement in his paper is this:
Better disaster planning can mitigate the impact of these future kinds of disaster but will not prevent their occurrence.
 On a more individual note, you might consider advocating a preparedness program that focuses on the home and the family. Doing as much as possible towards making individuals and family groups will go a long way in making communities as a whole more resilient in times of crisis.

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