Monday, June 07, 2010

Do your campaigns give the public enough information to act on?

(Editor's note:  I'm all for public service campaigns that have a call to action--but sometimes feel the campaigners forgot to include the how-to-act part in their rush to tell us why to act.  So this post from John Solomon's In Case of Emergency, Read Blog: A Citizen's Eye View of Public Preparedness resonated with me, because it focuses on the "see something, say something" campaigns that often leave their guidance at "something" rather than specifics.  Having worked on many emergency response efforts during my time as a senior public affairs official at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, I also know the value of the specific when asking citizens to pitch in, be it flood, fire or terrorism.  John was kind enough to permit me to reprint his post in full, and I think nonprofits, companies and government agencies will find it useful even if the topic isn't in your portfolio--consider it a primer on how much detail to include when you put out a call to action, and note how various groups are using social media to spread the word. Here's a  full reprint of John's post, Why Not Allow the Public to "See Something, Say Something" With More Educated Eyes and Mouths? Do keep an eye on his very good--and useful--blog.)

Since the Times Square bombing attempt, I have been writing about the role of the citizen in homeland security and in particular the use (and potential) of “See Something, Say Something”-type campaigns. In the aftermath of the New York incident and the ‘Christmas Day bomber’ Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – both foiled with the help of average citizens — officials have lauded the public’s role in homeland security. However, despite reports that the terror threat to the U.S. is increasing and experts extolling the importance of citizen awareness, there hasn’t yet been a subsequent effort to try to broaden or improve civilian involvement.

There are some training materials for citizens that are publicly available which have had limited release, but government officials are not publicizing them widely. It’s as if we’re only going halfway on citizen involvement even with the new emphasis on the public’s role and the rising threat. One of the resources is a video I recently posted produced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “What’s in Store: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Events,” aimed at helping employees spot suspicious activity. This video was made for the retail industry, but the “suspicious activity” examples shown include mall customers making observations, and so it would be useful for any citizen to see.

DHS’ “suspicious behavior” training video, “What’s In Store: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Events” (above)

Another useful ‘tips’ video was produced by the Denver’s Center for Empowered Living & Learning (CELL), “Recognizing 8 Signs of Terrorism,” narrated by former NFL star quarterback John Elway to help citizens identify signs of terrorist activity.

“Recognizing 8 Signs of Terrorism” video (above)

Both of these videos are publicly available, but neither has been highlighted by officials nor has their specific content been widely distributed. One major city, however, has launched a major public awareness/tips campaign with more specifics. The Los Angeles Police Department’s iWatch program offers a list of “suspicious behaviors” that citizens should be aware of along with a series of videos.

Los Angeles Police Department iWatch community training video (above)

There is a major caveat in any expansion of the citizen role. It is crucial that in empowering the public to play a role in the nation’s homeland security that we do not overdo things. There is a balance between informed/engaged and paranoid/overaggressive. However, I think is important that if indeed security officials believe that average citizens are integral to the nation’s safety then they should further educate them so they can be the most useful. The initiatives listed above offer the kind of information and training that I think would be helpful, and I hope that officials will begin broadening their use to the citizenry.

No comments: