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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Charles Wallace
February 28. 2017
Could promoting emergency preparedness messaging, using tactics of the Trump Administration, prove beneficial to our citizens? Would a complete change in the way we currently promote emergency preparedness messaging gain the attention of our citizens, encouraging them to become better informed about risks and hazards where they live, work and play? As crazy as the concept may seem, one must admit, the Trump Administration has rewritten the rules on marketing and advertising. All citizens, Democrat, Republican, third party and even those not politically interested, are glued to the screen of their favorite device carrying social media information eagerly awaiting the next tweet from the President, @realDonaldTrump.
Survey after survey, year after year, results consistently show Americans are not prepared for disaster events. According to a February 2016 Earth Institute, Columbia University article, Ready for Natural Disasters? Not So Much, “nearly two thirds (65 percent) of American households do not have adequate plans and supplies for a disaster. This is virtually unchanged from 2011 (66 percent) and represents only a modest improvement from since 2003 (77 percent).”
Cory Peins’ article in The Baffler, Primary Lessons in Propaganda, discussed the fact “today’s propaganda is more all-consuming, because people are more absorbed by media than at any time in history. Americans were spending, as of 2013, nearly eleven hours per day with electronic media, up from eight hours a dozen years ago.”
If it’s true we’re spending more time than ever using social media, we should be able to spread our emergency preparedness messages quite easily. However, if 65 percent of our citizens aren’t prepared for disaster and the numbers haven’t changed in a decade and a half, something else must be the issue. Is it the same old messaging, stale, unexciting and monotonous that keeps us from doing what’s necessary to inform our citizens about ways to reduce the impact of disaster and protect our communities, homes and families?
Farhad Manjoo, in a Slate.com article, You Won’t Finish This Article, Why people online don’t read to the end, describes how a typical on-line article is only finished by 50 percent of the people who initially begin reading it. The ultimate goal is to keep the reader interested long enough to initially scan the title of your message then finish the article while receiving, understanding and implementing the preparedness message you intended them to use.
Why not try a Trump Administration tactic of relaying the emergency preparedness messaging to your citizens with flamboyance and grandiose significance? Imagine two headlines for the same storm system:
If you happened to be one of those affected by the approaching event, you’d read the first headline, but would you continue on? The storm is approaching and it has a large storm surge. The information is there but it doesn’t draw the reader into the body of the message where issues on evacuation, sheltering and medical attention would be found.
In his Primary Lessons in Propaganda article, Cory Pein stated, “Public attention is “earned” through bombast, cleverness, or what the historian Daniel Boorstin characterized as the creation of “pseudo events”—inconsequential happenings staged for the sole purpose of generating media attention.” The second article creates a “pseudo event.” You’re telling the public something big, something unusual, is about to happen. They have no choice but to read on to obtain more information.
The tactic of using unconventional adjectives such as “colossal” or “stupendous” or any of a myriad of unorthodox wording virtually coerces a reader towards your article. You’ve gotten them to begin reading. We know 50 percent usually don’t finish an article they started; however, with the use of word dexterity, pomposity and swagger, the headline that seized their attention will drive them into the body of the article. Your essential message will be included in their inquiry into the article and if styled in an eccentric, clever manner, the reader will become engrossed enough to finish every word. You will have successfully passed the emergency preparedness message, containing all of the particulars on what to do, sheltering and medical information along to those who need it most.
The use of “pseudo event” tactics will not be an easy task for most. Even in the political realm, the Trump Administration is the only group using the tactic — but the world is mesmerized by every word released by them. Their social media following grows by the thousands, possibly millions on a daily basis worldwide. Imagine what would happen if your following gained that type of dominance in the dominion of emergency preparedness? In the words of the Trump Administration, “It would be huge!”
Author: Charles Wallace is the president of the Washington State Emergency Management Association. He has an MPA and speaks throughout the country on issues related to emergency management barriers and practice. His email is [email protected].