Monthly Archives: August 2011

Eat Your Vegetables!

Did it work for you when you were a kid? I happened to be one of those odd ones who would eat green peppers and tomatoes like apples and oranges; but this is not the case for most kids. The same goes for emergency and disaster preparedness. Telling people what to do to be ready when bad things happen isn’t working (unless you are one of those who were born ‘liking veggies’, which again, is not the majority). What we as emergency managers need to do is get people to want to be ready—and inspire them to seek out the how to’s of preparedness. So, how to get people to want to seek out how to be prepared? Answer: frame preparedness messages around what people care about. That means we need to think about who we are reaching and what they value—and use that as the rallying topic around preparedness. That takes some careful thought and analysis to understand what our audiences care about (note the ‘s’ at the end of audiences) and communicate around that.  That’s my job at DEM: to boil down what we are trying to accomplish and why; who we need to reach to meet said accomplishement; what we are saying to them (AKA messaging) so they understand what’s being asked; and how to deliver the message so they retain it and act upon it.  (Strategic Communications in a nutshell.)

Though not the natural role of emergency managers, this is not impossible. We at DEM started thinking this way and put our thoughts to paper in September 2009. Our strategy entitled the Preparedness Movement Communications Strategy guides all of our preparedness and resilience communications (we hope you will check it out on We still follow the basics of preparedness messages: make a plan, get a kit, be informed (see our web site: BUT we don’t start with those messages. That’s more of a third or fourth date topic. First, we have to court the audience into wanting to go out on that first and second date. This distinction is what we call the inspirational message (vegetables make us healthy and strong) versus the instructional message (finish your green beans or no dessert).

In San Francisco, we are a prideful, innovative, resourceful, progressive, trail-blazing community. So, that is the cultural value we highlight when talking about preparedness. We connect how being prepared for when bad things happen is celebrating our culture. That we are lucky to live here—and among each other—and that we want to survive, recover and get back to the life we love living here by being prepared. We also want to take the chore out of preparedness (we love to remind folks they are more prepared than they think—because it’s the truth and it makes people feel like they are almost done with their green beans and all the much closer to a bowl of ice cream). That’s the underlying theme we weave in our facebook updates/posts and our tweets; how we ‘act’ when we are at public events; and, who we ‘are’ as emergency managers who, like many, could benefit from a few more brussel sprouts at dinner and have an extra jar of peanut butter in our pantry.

At the heart of the matter, we are emergency managers in a local level emergency management department in a high profile, internationally renowned city that is at high risk for earthquakes—and we are the ones responsible for coordinating the response, restoration and recovery of San Francisco when faced with an emergency and/or disaster. That’s a lot of pressure to get San Franciscans to ‘eat their vegetables’. Luckily we have a ton of farmers markets.