AWARENESS AND EDUCATION
The key to reducing loss of life, personal injuries, and damage from natural disasters is widespread public awareness and education. People must be made aware of what natural hazards they are likely to face in their own communities. They should know in advance what specific preparations to make before an event, what to do during a hurricane, earthquake, flood, fire, or other likely event, and what actions to take in its aftermath.
Equally important, public officials and the media — television, radio, and newspapers — must be fully prepared to respond effectively, responsibly, and speedily to large-scale natural emergencies. They need to be aware, in advance, of procedures to follow in a crisis that threatens to paralyze the entire community they serve, and they need to know how to communicate accurate information to the public during a natural disaster.
Special efforts must also be made to reach and plan for the care of particularly vulnerable segments of the population — latch-key children, the elderly, individuals in health care and correctional facilities, people with disabilities, and those who do not speak English — with information about possible disasters and what to do in an emergency.
The Committee recommends that community-wide awareness and education programs about natural disasters be made a national priority.
To achieve this goal, the Committee proposes that information campaigns and educational efforts be developed and that their effectiveness be evaluated and, where possible, continually improved:
Home. Household survival plans should provide basic information on what hazardous events are most likely to occur in particular communities, what emergency equipment and supplies should be on hand, what precautions should be taken to limit damage, and what preparations should be made for escape and evacuation. Such information might best be conveyed graphically, both in print and on television. Dramatic, easily recognizable graphic symbols signifying each natural hazard should be created and widely publicized to identify impending emergencies and quickly alert the public to the degree of seriousness and the imminence of danger.
To stimulate public awareness, brochures, posters, games, calendars, museum exhibits, public service announcements (for print, radio, and television), and even entertainment programming should be used. Materials produced by the American Red Cross, FEMA, the National Weather Service (NWS), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and other government agencies as well as insurance companies and other private sector entities are already available for such campaigns. (See Figure 2.) Organizations in the private sector, including the Advertising Council, public utilities, public relations firms, advertising agencies, and voluntary organizations, should be enlisted to create, produce, and disseminate new information materials.
The community. Community-wide planning and education should be encouraged. Schools, government organizations, community and church groups, business and neighborhood organizations, hospital and medical groups, and the news media should all be involved. Checklists, information handouts, and training videos should be created and widely distributed to convey such information as the location of nearby emergency resources and appropriate use of the 911 system both during and after a disaster. Regional and community demonstration programs, disaster day exercises, volunteer courses, and conferences should be undertaken and evaluated for their effectiveness.
School. Educational materials about preparedness, warnings, and self-protection should be distributed to schools for use in kindergarten through the 12th grade. Teachers should be given training on integrating the materials into the regular curricula so that all children receive the information they need to protect themselves from disasters. Similar training initiatives should be directed to teachers at day-care centers and preschools as well as to caretakers of the elderly. These steps will also raise the level of awareness and preparedness at home.
The warkplace. Awareness and education for disaster mitigation and preparedness should be encouraged in the workplace. Labor unions, industry management, government employers, and business groups should work with disaster specialists and community agencies to produce and acquire the necessary training and information materials. Existing work safety and security programs should be expanded to include disaster preparedness measures and emergency response procedures. Workplace safety drills and disaster exercises are essential to ensure that procedures are followed in an emergency. Prime movers of this effort should include insurance companies, labor unions, Chambers of Commerce, public utilities, and Industrial Crisis Conference participants.
Colleges and universities. Community colleges as well as other colleges and universities should be encouraged to include disaster management training in their curricula. Materials on mitigation and preparedness should be made part of geoscience, meteorology, forestry, health, engineering, architecture, education, planning, public administration, and business school programs. Preparation of books, articles, and teaching aids, and research by faculty and students should be encouraged and supported.
Public officials and the press. Special attention should be given to raising the level of knowledge and expertise of public officials and the press, both of whom have central responsibilities for dealing with natural disasters. There is a need to develop procedures, protocols, and priorities for disseminating information to the public. Contingency plans should be put in place so that vital emergency services and key elements of the press are prepared to function even when electricity, transportation, telephone transmission, and other communications and production capabilities are severely disrupted. Community emergency procedures, warning signals, disaster resources, and relief facilities and responsibilities should be spelled out in advance and reviewed and tested periodically by public officials and the press.
Journalism schools and press think tanks such as the Gannett Center for Media Studies and the Annenberg Center for Communications, as well as professional organizations such as Sigma Delta Chi and the Radio-Television News Directors Association, should be encouraged to investigate the specific challenges of providing information and news coverage in time of disaster.
Professionals. Disaster education is essential in the training of the government and private sector professionals, emergency management personnel, and emergency service providers who have the major responsibility for mitigation and emergency response. Professional continuing education programs on mitigating the effects of natural disasters should be made widely available through colleges, universities, and professional associations. Development of advanced materials for use in curricula, workshops, conferences, and similar activities should be encouraged. Continuing education requirements should be built into the certification, licensing, and evaluation of professionals in the field. Courses in hazard-resistant land-use, design, and structural techniques should be included in engineering, architecture, and construction curricula. Special attention should be given to planning for reconstruction and other elements of community recovery. Schools of medicine, nursing, and public health should offer courses on disaster preparedness and response as they relate to individual and community health.