Tagged: preparedness

Oct 19

Understand your hazard or issue, then find a story to tell

Every successful outreach program tells a story. This story needs to form the kernel of your program messaging. For our earthquake and tsunami program it is, “Be a survivor.” This simple phrase comes from a wealth of understanding of the issue, the science behind earthquakes, and even more importantly the science of marketing and branding. Because really? You are selling a product just as much as Coca-Cola is. And you are competing for the consumer’s attention span and dollars just as much as Coca-Cola is, although I doubt you have millions of dollars to spend on your campaign. So study the competition and how they do things, but more importantly study your own issue or hazard.

Before you even begin to think about your outreach program, you will need to thoroughly examine and understand your hazard or issue. If you aren’t excited about this prospect, you may need to find another line of work. Because if you are not thoroughly enamored by your topic, then it may be hard to sustain the curiosity and energy needed to successfully complete your program. I’m going to go on the assumption that you are passionate about your issue. Otherwise, Pinterest is calling you.

In order to know the best way to find a path forward, you have to know where that path has been. Assemble a history of your program or issue. Who were the early adopters and creative thinkers? Are there seminal works of research or publications? What are the methods and theories at work in your field?

Spend time with the experts and scientists in order to learn from them. They will be great resources as you move forward with your program. Hang out with them at conferences; take opportunities to go have a meal or beer with them. Scientists love beer. Want to make a scientist a friend? Buy them a beer. Just don’t make it a cheap beer. And if you are buying one for me, I prefer a stout. The idea here is to create the networks of knowledge that will support your outreach program later.

Educate yourself on the science so that you don’t have to rely on others for your opinions. You may not be a geologist, or a biologist, or a rocket scientist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t educate yourself enough to speak authoritatively on your chosen subject. Because you will be asked questions along the way that will require a somewhat technical response. It is always ok to say you don’t know the answer, but at least be able to direct them to those who can answer technical questions. So depending on what your hazard or issue is, you could be faced with the following questions:

  • How do hurricanes form and what is the role of the warm ocean temperatures?
  • What makes subduction zone earthquakes so big?
  • Why is it not a good idea to try and surf a tsunami?

You don’t have to be a scientist to educate people on a subject. You don’t need to have a doctoral degree in a scientific field to answer these questions. You just need to have done your homework. And learning is fun. So get out that big brain of yours and learn something new today about your hazard or issue. The more you know the more effective advocate for your cause you will be.

As you educate yourself, keep track of questions that are raised and their answers. These can become the basis of a FAQ which will be a valuable tool in your kit. You don’t want to have to keep looking up the same information. Then, you can post this on your website to help educate the public during your campaign. It’s a win-win situation.



Oct 18

What is public outreach?

Public education and outreach is an effort by individuals or groups to connect its ideas or practices to the efforts of other organizations. In essence, you have something you want to say or there is some behavior you want others to change or to adopt. You can probably come up with other applications for public outreach that fit within your own needs.

In my case, I do public outreach and education around the issue of geological natural hazards. This usually entails educating people on the hazards; earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes. Yes, we have all three in Oregon. There is nowhere on earth that isn’t subject to some hazard or another. But outreach isn’t just about educating people, that’s just the first step. What we really want is to change behavior… get preparedmake a planstop smokingwear seat beltswear helmetschew with your mouth closed… and so on.

We can all think of public outreach campaigns that have worked and others that haven’t worked. Some campaigns that have worked well are the ones that got you to buckle your car seat and to eat dolphin-safe tuna. With a lot of hard work and perseverance, you can make sure that your public outreach campaign will be in the first group.

An effective public outreach program can either be promoted from the top down or rise from the grassroots. Either strategy has both positive and negative aspects. The important thing to remember is that no two outreach programs are the same. What works for the community just up the road may not work for you, but we can learn valuable lessons from other outreach programs.

Outreach is a two way street – you are not simply imparting knowledge. You are also learning about your community and its needs. It will be impossible to create change unless you know what your starting point is and where you need to be going. I’ll talk about ways to learn about your community in a future post.

Don’t make this a hollow outreach program. There is no use telling people to be aware of a hazard and then not do any mitigation or community-level preparedness. Take this opportunity to start the conversation about your issue, if it hasn’t started already. Public outreach is a very useful tool and should be given the care it deserves to create the action and change in behavior you are seeking.