Putting the Public in Public Information

There’s a reason they call it “public” information—the public needs the information to make good decisions. Disaster or otherwise, information is essential to making decisions. Like I wrote about  in this post – The Emergency Manager Mindset – emergency managers and public information officers forget that crucial fact.

We cannot rely on a temporary medium to tell the story of preparedness and why it is essential to each of our diverse neighborhoods to build resilience between disasters.

Here are three key tips for keeping the public involved in our preparedness work, right now.

Go beyond social media

Social media can be a great way to reach people, but don’t forget about more traditional opportunities to connect. Your local newspaper, neighborhood publications, and public meetings are all ideal ways to connect with our residents in places where they can engage with preparedness information.

People need to feel like they are being personally addressed in order for them to take our message seriously. Speak to people as individuals by using personal stories and examples to illustrate points. Go beyond the blanket social media post and tell the story of why preparedness really matters.

Use your social media presence as a way to reach out to people more directly and get them involved in the work of preparedness and community resilience. Ask for feedback, opinions, and suggestions from the public on how you can improve communication or response efforts.

Know the neighborhood

Understand the community’s needs, values, and culture. This can include knowing the languages spoken in your neighborhood, as well as other cultural considerations like religious beliefs or levels of access to technology. Adjust your messaging and communication methods accordingly.

Use this knowledge to make your preparedness messaging interactive. Engage people directly by creating interactive opportunities, such as surveys or public meetings. Ask people for their opinions and feedback, and then actually use that input to shape your messaging plans.

By interacting directly with the public, you can create a conversation and an ongoing dialogue rather than just delivering one-way messaging. This also creates an opportunity for people to learn more about emergency response and how it works in their own community.

If we want our residents to react when the threat arrives, we need to put them first.

Ultimately, the goal of our work is to keep the public safe. So make sure that your message and communication strategy focus on informing people about what to do in an emergency. Put the safety of your community first by making sure everyone knows how to act and stay safe during a disaster.


a diverse group of adults and children gathering to enjoy a picnic together

Talk about it early and often

It’s important to talk about preparedness and response measures well before a disaster strikes. Use your presence in the community to share information, create dialogue, and increase people’s understanding of what they need to do in an emergency. This sets the foundation for effective communication when a disaster does occur.

Make sure everyone is informed about what to do in an emergency, and how best to receive information. That way, when the public does need information in a disaster, they’ll know where to turn.

By keeping the public involved in our work, we can ensure that everyone is safe and informed during an emergency. Put the public first by understanding their needs and communicating effectively to keep them up-to-date. And remember, disaster preparedness isn’t just a one-time event—it’s an ongoing process. Think of it as an opportunity to build relationships with the community that will last far beyond any single emergency.


    In sum, it is crucial for us to be active and accessible sources of information before, during, and after disasters. We should use all available mediums to reach our residents in a way that resonates with them.

    We must relay critical disaster preparedness information to our residents. Let’s have constructive conversations and educate them early and often to reduce the confusion during disasters and ultimately create resilience in our communities now and for many generations to come. Our work with our residents must go beyond vanity metrics from social media but instead deliver real change over time.

    It is our goal to go beyond the superficial and connect with people by connecting to their culture, their lives, and their neighborhoods. Last but not least, let’s keep talking about preparedness early on and often – not just when disaster strikes.

    Let’s give our residents the information they need to make smart decisions through thoughtful engagement today. Let’s not wait until a crisis arises; let’s engage where it matters – directly with our communities where they are.

    Together we can make a meaningful difference in the well-being of everyone involved!

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