In the emergency preparedness business, there is a very old adage that “the time to exchange business cards is before a disaster.” For the government, there has been increased focus on building relationships, protocols, and capabilities before a disaster strikes through real-time exercise, interagency meetings, technology and new partnerships. Building a network, of sorts, for resilience.
For citizens on the front lines of disasters, exchanging business cards is akin to knowing how to access information before and during a crisis. They require access to information for preparedness, real-time information in a disaster, and connections with family and friends. But…how much do citizens really have knowledge of these resources before a disaster
We wanted to find out: What are the trusted sources of information before and during a disaster? Will social media surpass traditional modes of communications for preparing for a disaster? How do we communicate during a disaster?
To help us answer these questions and more, we partnered with Ipsos, a leading global market and opinion research firm. We asked respondents about how prepared they are for a disaster and how they would use technology in a disaster. We wanted to understand how citizens would use the new horizons of technology to drive a new era of digital disaster preparedness.
We launched a public survey in March 2018 to 1,000 survey respondents across the country. Here’s what we learned:
We Don’t Seek or Don’t Have the Right Information for Disaster Preparedness: Despite an uptick in national disasters over the past year, the general public is still not as prepared as we expected them to be on an average day. Fewer than half of the national respondents have knowledge of basic information to prepare for a disaster – information like emergency responder contact info, evacuation routes or shelter locations. Without this information before a disaster, we would expect that when a disaster struck, they would need to quickly find relevant information.
We Expect Technology to Shape the Way We Prepare… and Respond: Even if we don’t have the preparedness information we need on an average day, we know we need technology for preparedness. Survey respondents overwhelmingly believed that technology (e.g., websites, online resources) play an important role in preparedness (83%). Most respondents (76%) also believed they would rely heavily on technology (e.g., websites, online resources) to keep me updated during a disaster.
The Go-to Technology Might Surprise You (It’s Not Facebook!). Recent post-disaster conversations have focused on new disaster-focused social media innovations—functions like Facebook’s “safe check-in” or live-tweeting from inside the eye of a storm. Despite these conversations, our survey respondents were surprisingly old-school in their preferred communications channels. Their preferred format for emergency information was SMS (63%), followed by a centralized website (47%), and a telephone hotline number (34%). They also would rely most heavily on traditional means of communications, such as the radio and TV, in the event of an emergency, as opposed to social media channels or online sources. Only 51% of respondents believed they would use social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) to stay updated during a disaster. It may all come down to “who do you trust”.
Based on this data, we brought together experts from across Booz Allen to offer recommendations for community resilience across all levels of government – from those at Emergency Operations Center to Public Health officials to Federal Leaders. What does this survey mean for the future of building community resilience in the era digital disaster preparedness? Here’s what we took away:
- Building Official Information Channels Will Take Collaboration between All Levels of Government. With reliance on text messaging or centralized websites, it’s clear that survey respondents are looking for official sources of information as opposed to peer-to-peer information that may be unreliable or inaccurate. To build better sources of official information, local, state, and federal government officials must work together to help maintain those platforms. This will prevent conflicting information.
- Building Community Resilience Requires Continued Focus on Preparedness of Communications Channels: Despite continued efforts by officials at all levels of government, we are not as prepared as we should be for disasters. Beyond basic preparations like food, water, and shelter, our resilience depends on citizens getting the information they need, when they need it. There needs to be a continued national dialogue around communications in a disaster scenario.
- Keeping the Digital Citizen Informed in a Disaster Requires a Multi-Channel Approach: In the age of government agencies and officials tweeting and citizens sharing information with their extended network, Public Information Officers and Emergency Response Officials must use a multi-channel approach to communications with the public in an emergency. While a quick post to a social media platform may be the easiest method of communications, in an emergency, basic methods like radio, television, and SMS are necessary.
About our research partner Ipsos
Ipsos is a leading global independent market research company that is passionately curious about people, markets, brands, and society. They make our changing world easier and faster to navigate, and inspire clients to make smarter decisions. They deliver research with security, speed, simplicity, and substance. For more information, please visit www.ipsos.com.