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Designing Preparedness

NOLA Ready poster


When it comes to opt-in, emergency preparedness initiatives, marketing is everything. Sometimes the abstract threat of disaster is just too far removed from the average person’s realm of experience to motivate them to build an emergency kit or come up with an evacuation plan – it becomes far too easy to fall into the habit of saying “I’ll take care of that next week,” or “our home is safe, we’ll be fine.”

Luckily, cities are catching on, as modern emergency preparedness tools and campaigns are beginning to rely less on scare tactics alone, and turning instead to the powers of good design to motivate citizens to action.

As the first official day of summer, June 20 marked the start of the most crucial season for emergency management departments in many regions of the U.S. With hurricane season beginning along the East and Gulf coasts, and the dry, hot conditions of the southwestern summer providing an ideal breeding ground for wildfire, several of Code for America’s 2012 partner cities are ramping up their emergency preparedness efforts.

In preparation for the 2012 hurricane season, New Orleans’ Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) has been working for months to revamp the city’s NOLA Ready emergency notification system and preparedness campaign. With it’s simple, iconic graphics, compelling, persuasive language, and dynamic content, NYC’s successful Ready New York campaign served as the model for what the new NOLA Ready hoped to be, and with NOHSEP’s whip-smart Community Outreach Coordinator Sara Hudson spearheading the effort, NOLA Ready was off to an awesome start. When I met her during my team’s February residency in New Orleans, Sara already had a crystal-clear vision for the messaging and overall strategy for NOLA Ready’s relaunch, but she needed a simple and iconic visual marker to represent the campaign. Hello, quick-win opportunity!

Sara and I hatched a plan, and at our Code: NOLA hackathon towards the end of the month, we worked together to come up with a first round of design ideas, with the help of local designer Jeffrey Goodman. A few minor tweaks later, and we had our logo.

NOLA Ready logo, before and after

Considering what we started with, I’d say it’s a considerable improvement, and gave the city’s Web Supervisor Eric Ogburn a great jumping-off point to build out the rest of the campaign.

The new campaign launched on June 1, and it’s been incredibly surreal to see the fruits of our labor plastered on bus shelters across the city, and promoted so prominently on the city’s website and by the Mayor himself (the logo was Mayor Landrieu’s Twitter avatar for the past month!).

@MayorLandrieu's NOLA Ready Twitter avatarDesigned with versatility in mind, the NOLA Ready logo can be read both as a warning sign, but also as a badge of honor, to be displayed prominently in storefront windows and on bumper stickers and T-shirts as an indicator of the owner’s commitment to preparing themselves and their community for whatever curveballs may be thrown their way.

Emergency preparedness, after all, is one of the greatest opportunities for individual residents to step up and take ownership of their own safety, and help their government help them. By taking the few minutes it requires to register for NOLA Ready’s text and email alert system, come up with an emergency plan, and indicate whether or not they are eligible for the city’s assisted evacuation services, citizens can save the City of New Orleans valuable hours in response time when disaster strikes.

Similarly, a new app from CfA’s Team Austin and the Austin Fire Department aims to equip homeowners within Austin’s high-risk Wildland Urban Interface with tools to decrease their property’s potential risk of wildfire damage. Called Prepared.ly, the new app gives Austin homeowners a better understanding of their property’s risk based on location and current weather conditions, as well as provides a series of tasks that owners can schedule on their calendars to help protect their home against wildfire.

Like the NOLA Ready campaign and many projects that Code for America produces and supports, Prepared.ly operates under the assumption that empowering individual citizens to take responsibility for themselves and their communities allows municipal governments to more effectively serve and protect those communities — using fewer resources. Taking steps to fireproof your own home vastly increases the safety of your entire community, and exponentially reduces the resource strain on the city’s Fire Department when wildfire strikes. If you ask me, that’s pretty rad.

Legitimizing this particular brand of collective civic action and using good design to do it feels like a great step in the right direction. Here’s to moving forward.

Photo credit: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Bill Colclough.