Emergency Preparedness Literacy – An addition to Mayor Bloomberg’s Resiliency Plan

I’m not quite Polly Anna-ish, and sometimes can find myself teetering on the edge of situational pessimism, but I do believe good things come from bad. This can be said of super-storm Sandy.

We were struck dumb, frightened and lost. Many, many suffered greatly. Then and now, we’re recovering.  All nature of good and great things about neighbors and helpers was reaffirmed.  Testament to our resiliency.

In the tangible steps the city and its communities are taking to make the city more resilient to emergencies such as Sandy, I find one critical component hasn’t reached the high water mark of attention and effort.  


Mayor Bloomberg’s Storm Initiatives  

+    Reducing Carbon Emissions  


=     New York’s Readiness and Resiliency

The need to create an informed, ready-to-act public before, during and after emergencies.  So I’m adding it to the formula for emergency preparedness and resilience.
Emergency Preparedness Literacy.

1. Mayor Bloomberg’s Special Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency puts tangible action steps to redesigning vulnerabilities in the city to prevent the devastation from super-storms like Sandy. Extreme weather costs billions. NRDC analysis calculates that when you add up all federal spending last year on droughts, storms, floods, and forest fires  – called the (Climate Disruption budget), nearly $100 billion is the bill (16% of total non-defense discretionary spending in the federal budget), without the health expenses. To say nothing of the personal loss and suffering.  In 402 NYCHA public housing 80,000 residents were in the dark and cold for weeks.
2. Post Sandy there is more public discussion and efforts to seriously reach carbon emissions goals as presented in the city’s 2007 NYC Inventory report  http://nytelecom.vo.llnwd.net/o15/agencies/planyc2030/pdf/greenhousegas_2011.pdf  
3. Emergency Preparedness Literacy
We have 25 years of evidence showing that in the US the public’s abilities to understand and act on health information is very dependent on their health literacy – their abilities to read, listen to, understand, judge trustworthiness.

+    Most health and safety information is written at 10-12th  grade &>   
+    50% of US adults read at 8th grade level and lower. 
+    Underserved populations generally read at 5th-6th grade or lower.
+    50% of US adults are low health literate – they have difficulty   finding, understanding and using basic health  information.
+    Difficult to understand information is hard to trust and act upon.
=    Too Many Un-ready, Un-prepared New Yorkers 

Some of us have been identifying real barriers to the general public’s understanding, trusting and acting on emergency preparedness information from the media, officials and on the Web. 
Zarcadoolas et al., Journal of Homeland Security, 2005;
Carter-Pokras et al., Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 18 (2007): 465–481;

By 2050, the number of residents living in the 100-year flood plain zone could double to 800,000.  Twice as many residents at risk as showed up on FEMA maps before Sandy.

Our collective low emergency preparedness literacy is fixable. From organizing “go bags” to truly preparing for “sheltering in place”, our engagement, understanding and action can be improved. Here’s a short list of some of the high-barrier ( hard to read/use/understand) elements of preparedness information that could be reconceived and revised to be more useful to the public, including the lower health and safety literacy groups:
1.     Improve the readability and cultural tailoring of personal and family preparedness materials (NY State’s “Don’t Be Left in the Dark” information is written at 10th> grade and is not culturally tailored).
2.     Involve communities in co-developing needed emergency preparedness information in multiple modalities include SMS/mobile.
3.     Include emergency preparedness information at community health fairs and other events
4.     Revise maps used to communicate emergencies to be more readable and usable.

The New York Roundtable on Public Health Literacy – the city’s leaders in health literacy and public engagement is a resource and is ready to assist New York make these things happen.

If you’re working on any aspect of public emergency preparedness literacy, we would very much like hearing from you. 

2 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply