The Secrets of Teaching Disaster Preparedness
Headlines are full of hurricanes, earthquakes, bird flu, terrorism, and other dangers of the world in which we live. However, most civilians aren’t prepared to face a disaster or even a family emergency. This begs the question “Why not?” This article is intended for those who want to change this fact by teaching others, including their own families, to be better prepared, safer, and more self-reliant.
During our years of training first responders how to protect the families they have to leave at home during a crisis, we’ve identified several “learning obstacles” that prevent individuals and families from being as emergency ready as they should be. We’ll list them here quickly then cover each in more detail and discuss ways to jump these learning hurdles.
Since we’re talking about educating families – the cornerstone of all reaction plans - let’s use the acronym F.A.M.I.L.I.E.S.:
Fear – “It’s too scary to think about.”
Attention Span – “I’m too busy to learn or do anything new.”
Media – “There’s always a weatherman in the hurricane.”
Info Levels Now – “A 72-hour kit is all I need.”
Lifestyle Ties – “I don’t want to change the way I live.”
Income – “I can’t afford to buy the gear or take the steps.”
Ego – “I’m so important that others will look after me.”
Selflessness – “I’m not worried about me, I want to help others.”
So why is it important to increase the level of civilian preparedness training over what we have through sites like ready.gov? That question can be a series of articles on its own, but the 4-part short answer is one, most free websites have only the bare minimum info; two, the fewer victims we have in a disaster the better off we’ll all be; three, all business continuity plans rest on the ability of employees to return to work; and four, the term “civilians” includes the families of first responders. The more prepared the family, the more able is the responder to report for duty.
As we cover each learning obstacle below, you’ll find a brief description of the problem followed by a few specific tips on how to deal with that particular issue. When teaching, remember that people have different learning styles. Visual learners do best by watching. They are receptive to videos, PowerPoint, or live demos. Auditory learners prefer verbal communication such as speeches, podcasts, or books on tape. Kinesthetic learners benefit from hands-on experience. Try to incorporate a little of each into your presentations.
Fear is probably the number one reason people don’t prepare. Too many people focus on the dangers they may face in disasters, rather than the benefits of self-reliance. Worse, many so-called "experts" dwell on nothing but the threat since they have little to no new preparedness information. Let’s look at ways to teach readiness while avoiding fear:
With microwave ovens, ATMs, email, and so forth, we live in a world of instant gratification. We have become a society whose mantra is “Just give me the condensed intro, not the whole pamphlet.” We rarely take time to do a thorough and detailed job of anything, and the notion of adding things to the list, even something life-saving, is out of the question.
News channels can be a double-edged sword. They’re great for emergency warnings, but sometimes contradict themselves. For example, weather stations will pass along evacuation warnings in advance of a hurricane, but then they’ll send a reporter out in the middle of it to give a live report. Some people see this and think hurricanes are no big deal. We’ve seen the same in minor chemical spills. Let your preparedness students know that:
Info Levels Now
Most “emergency” sites on the internet with “readiness information” have nothing but variations of the 72-hour kit checklist. The other end of the spectrum finds all the “survivalist” info concerning edible plants and living off the land. These two extremes can mislead the public in two distinct ways. One, the simplistic info might tell people that a 72-hour kit is all they’ll need and the government will come protect them. Two, the other extreme relates to fear since it tends to tell people that “things will be so bad that you’ll need these survival skills.” The extremes should be avoided. Shoot for the more realistic middle ground.
Essentially, this is another form of fear. It’s the fear of changing one’s lifestyle to incorporate readiness, and it’s the fear of losing one’s current lifestyle in the wake of a disaster. Two points come into play here.
Many people see ads for high-priced “disaster” goods and gear and assume that protecting their family will be a major financial investment. This isn’t necessarily the case. If done correctly, protective measures can actually save a family money, or at least zero itself out on your household budget.
Ego can also be called self-esteem, and this can either go high or low. In the case of high self-esteem, some people may think, “I’m so important that others will take care of me.” Low self-esteem carries its own peculiarities as well. These folks might think, “No one will help me,” or “Nothing exciting ever happens here, so why prepare?” Though not directly ego-related, many people hold that same belief that “Nothing will happen here. Things happen to other people.”
Many people are so concerned about others that they neglect themselves. This is one of the reasons we see incidents of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) in people that were never in the actual emergency. This type of distant stress is caused when these folks see bad things happen to other people but they can’t do anything about it.
The most important point of all is that your main goal is to teach both the importance and techniques of disaster preparedness in order to make our world safer. So, we have one last acronym for you; the word T.E.A.C.H.
Treat each family member as unique.
Emphasize the benefits and not the threat.
Allow for different learning styles and speeds.
Confidence building is goal number one.
Help others to help themselves, and to then help others in turn.
About the author: Paul Purcell is an Atlanta-based security analyst and preparedness consultant with over twenty years risk management and preparedness experience. He’s also the author of Disaster Prep 101 found at www.disasterprep101.com. Copyright 2005 - 2012, Paul Purcell.
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