Anyone who has spent time responding to the emergencies of others has likely had their share of face palm moments. What were those people thinking? What a bunch of idiots! It’s easy to become jaded over time and to pass judgement on the actions of our customers. The reality however is one that quite often boils down to demographics. What a firefighter might view as basic fire safety in the home may be completely foreign to someone who was raised in a lower income home or in a part of the world that places less emphasis on fire safety education. For search and rescue groups the lack of preparedness on the part of a subject might boil down to economics or it could be a lack of exposure to the outdoors and an appreciation for the many hazards that await the unprepared backcountry visitor.
Compounding the problem, prevention programs haven’t evolved much over the years. Most still rely on stickers, badges, colouring books and dull brochures to achieve prevention goals – a public relations exercise at best but more like cheap entertainment. Others opt for finger waving and yelling to try and ‘entice’ the public into taking personal responsibility and some produce very grave adverts highlighting all of the awful things that might happen should you fail to take the steps needed to protect yourself. As any responder will attest, these programs aren’t working. They never have and never will. Call volume continues to escalate and the same failings show up over and over again in the lead up to disaster and emergency events.
In an ever connected world and faced with an audience that officially has a shorter attention span than a Goldfish (seriously) we have our work cut out for us. Making matters worse, traditional preparedness programs have typically separated operational and prevention responsibilities which leaves a very small number of people handling the bulk of the prevention tasks. Those in operational roles generally view prevention as a job for others, an attitude that needs to change if we’re going to make meaningful progress on the prevention front. As first responders, we all have a responsibility to tackle prevention.
So what are we to do? For starters, we need to use different tools, we need to deliver content that is engaging and optimized for the busy lives of our customers. Your audience is on Instagram and Snapchat and you need to be there as well. Your content needs to be original and engaging. Stats and dull safety messaging simply don’t work. Fair or not, you’re competing against the best the web has to offer and you need to find ways to captivate your audience and once you have their attention, you’d best have something worth sharing.
Should comedy play a role? Why not? As responders, we constantly use humour to deal with the dark aspects of our job and it’s a natural way to start a conversation with an audience that might otherwise overlook the need to prepare for low probability, high consequence events. Can you gamify the building of disaster preparedness kits? Of course you can. Could you build an engaging app for kids with prevention messages integrated into game play? Yes you could. At the end of the day we need to borrow heavily from outside of our industry and remember that it’s our imagination that is the limiting factor.
For those of us in operational roles, we need to take ownership of the many prevention opportunities that we have in the course of a day. It’s ultimately our job to raise the consciousness of our customers. Next time you find yourself on a call rolling your eyes in the face of apparent stupidity take minute out of your day and remember that your customer didn’t plan on having this happen. Make a genuine effort to explain where they screwed up and provide them with the information needed to ensure they don’t become repeat customers. Better yet, turn them into a safety evangelist like North Shore Rescue did in 2012. We’ll all be better for it.