EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – July 21, 2004

Talking About Disasters
Guide for Standard Messages -- 2004 Edition

Rocky Lopes, Ph.D.
Manager, Community Disaster Education
American Red Cross National Headquarters

Susan Russell-Robinson
Staff Scientist
U.S. Geological Survey

Ron Gird
Outreach Program Manager
NOAA National Weather Service

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today's topic is the National Disaster Education Coalition (NDEC) and its latest revision to Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages. This is a follow up on the topic first presented here in the Forum during July 1999.

Each of our speakers will make a brief presentation to give a general overview of the National Disaster Education Coalition, describe the history and current content of Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages, explain how to get a copy of the Guide, and then conclude with plans for the future.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our speakers. Rocky Lopes serves as the Convener of the National Disaster Education Coalition (NDEC). In his "real life," he is Manager of Community Disaster Education at the American Red Cross National Headquarters.

Joining him today to make this presentation and to answer your questions are Ron Gird, Outreach Manager for the National Weather Service Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services, and Susan Russell-Robinson, Staff Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey. Please see the Background Page for more detailed biographical information on our guests.

To kick-off our session, I turn to Ron Gird to give a brief background about the Coalition.


Ron Gird: The National Disaster Education Coalition (NDEC) is composed of 20 federal government agencies and national not-for-profit organizations which work together to develop consistent educational information for the public about disaster preparedness, and to disseminate that information throughout their own organizations, their respective constituencies, and to the public at large.

The current members of the Coalition are indicated on the NDEC web site http://www.disastereducation.org; see the right side of the page for list of names.

The NDEC focuses on raising public and media awareness about natural, technological, and human-caused hazards, disaster preparedness, and mitigation activities through public outreach and education serving national, federal, state, and local audiences.

The Coalition has established goals on its web site, which you can refer to later http://www.disastereducation.org/goals.html.

The Coalition works as an ad-hoc group through a consensus process. It is not funded or staffed independently or by any specific agency. Its work is done by representatives of member organizations as they are able to commit and dedicate their time. We find that when we work together, scientific and background information is understood by all so that we may develop a consensus on disaster education messages.

The Coalition began through an informal bilateral agency collaborative process in the 1980's. In the early 1990's, several relationships had been established between two or three agencies on specific disaster education initiatives. As people working through these bilateral relationships began talking with one another, the need for a more formalized, regular meeting process was identified so that all agencies could benefit from each other's mutual interests and knowledge.

Prior to September 11, 2001, eight agencies participated in the NDEC. Subsequent to that time, 12 additional agencies and organizations have joined the NDEC and have representatives who actively participate.

The Coalition's principle publication is the document titled Talking About Disasters: Guide for Standard Messages. We will be discussing that in more detail in a few minutes.

The Coalition meets monthly from September through June in the Washington, DC, area, and enjoys participation from national organizations whose offices are outside the DC area as well. Meeting dates and locations are posted on the web site http://www.disastereducation.org/meetings.html.

Now Rocky will take over to provide some background on the history of the Guide.

Rocky Lopes: As Ron just mentioned, the Coalition's principle publication is the document titled Talking About Disasters: Guide for Standard Messages. This Guide was first developed and published in May, 1999. At the time, it was a breakthrough on classifying and coming to agreement on disaster-related content among eight national agencies and organizations on disaster preparedness topics.

In January, 2002, the Coalition began conversations about reviewing and updating the Guide. In particular, the events of September 11, 2001, brought additional "hazard topics" to mind, such as terrorism and the agents that terrorists could use to afflict harm on others. Thus began a comprehensive and sometimes quite painful process of reviewing each and every word in the Guide, plus having new chapters written for it.

The messages in the Guide have been written, researched, reviewed and approved by representatives from agencies composing the NDEC. A lot of disaster preparedness information remains the same, but some of it has changed when new information or research becomes known. For example, the long-term belief that if someone is on the road when a tornado threatens, the occupants should get out of the vehicle and go up in the underpass for protection. We have learned from the experience with the May 3, 1999, and other tornadoes that doing so could actually put the people in more danger.

We also looked at injury patterns following earthquakes, and have reinforced the standardized message that, in the U.S., one should "drop, cover, and hold on" in an earthquake - not run for a doorway or out of a building. Injury patterns have shown that the more people try to move in an earthquake, the more likely they could get injured or even killed.

The review and update process of the revised Talking About Disaster Guide included extensive participation by more than 450 professionals, scientists, and researchers who contributed to the material. Representatives from NDEC participating agencies have spent numerous hours to refine and resolve content issues and questions, to ensure accuracy, consistency, and appropriateness of messages.

Now Susan Russell-Robinson will review with you what's in the Revised Guide.

Susan Russell-Robins: The Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages is composed of a cover, Table of Contents, 19 subject chapters (this is the main content of the Guide), an informative Appendix, and soon to come, an index.

The content chapters fall into these general categories:

Severe Weather: Floods & Flash Floods; Heat (Heat Wave); Hurricanes & Tropical Storms; Severe Thunderstorms; Tornadoes; Winter Storms

Land/Earth: Drought; Earthquakes; Landslides; Tsunamis; Volcanoes; Wildfire

Human-Caused: a chapter on Terrorism will be forthcoming.

There is also an appendix that lists 30 additional topics that are shared among some hazards - for example, information on portable generator safety is important for the chapters on hurricanes, winter storms, thunderstorms, and post-disaster safety.

Following each message in the Guide are explanations, statistics, or reasons that reinforce the credibility of the message and that correct myths and misinformation. .The coalition recognizes that it is important for all agencies to deliver consistent disaster safety messages. Research has proven that when the public receives consistent information, they will prepare and respond appropriately when disaster threatens.

The Guide will be available in hard copy from any local American Red Cross chapter in August, and is available now on the web.

Before September 11, 2001, we couldn't use the word "terrorism" in public without thinking that we were going to scare people. Today, that word, and its related agents that could be used to cause harm to others are not only okay to talk about, but are frequently asked about by the public. So a new chapter on terrorism will be included for the first time. It is in the final review stages with DHS/FEMA.

Each content chapter in the Guide is in the following format:

Header: lists the chapter title and publication month and year.

Awareness Messages: information that explains the hazard.

Action Messages: what to do before (preparedness and mitigation), during, and immediately after the hazard happens.

Media and Community Education ideas: suggestions on how to bring the hazard to the attention of the media and the public.

Facts and Fiction: new to this version of the Guide, we address common folklore and debunk it, such as "stand in a doorway in an earthquake" or "get under an underpass in a tornado".

We're very excited about this new version of the Guide. It reflects a lot of time, review, research, and collaboration among the nation's leading agencies involved in disaster preparedness and safety.

Now back to Ron for how to get the Guide.

Ron Gird: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages is available today for free downloading from the National Disaster Education Coalition's web site at http://www.disaster/education.org/guide.html.

Each component of the Guide, including the cover, Table of Contents, the content chapters except Terrorism, and Appendix are available now. The index is being done now and will be posted in early August, 2004. The Terrorism chapter will be posted as soon as it is cleared by DHS/FEMA.

We have posted each part of the Guide as a separate PDF file. As of yesterday, the entire Guide from beginning to end is available in one large file in a zipped format. This enables those with broadband service to download the entire document instead of one file-at-a-time. It had to be in a zipped format to compress the file size – even zipped, the file is over 8MB and can take a while to download.

The Guide is being prepared for printing, and the printed version will be available from some NDEC partner agencies later this summer. When it is available in print, information will be available by email and on the NDEC web site about how to get it and its cost. As the NDEC itself can not process orders for materials, printed copies will only be available from some individual NDEC agencies, such as the American Red Cross.

Now Rocky will wrap up with plans for future updates.

Rocky Lopes: We realize that the content in the Guide is dynamic, and as we continue to learn more information, gather more research, and study disaster safety, we may need to change some content in the Guide. We will do that by updating the content in the files posted on the NDEC web site.

You can "opt in" to be notified when the Guide is updated through an on-line "notification form" on the web site. If you ask to be notified, you will get email from Rocky Lopes explaining what has been updated, allowing you to choose if you wish to check out the updated content. If you get a printed version of the Guide and an update is made to a chapter, you can simply download the updated chapter and substitute the changed chapter in your printed version.

The National Disaster Education Coalition is truly appreciative to E-Scapes, Inc. and its company HomelandPlans.com for supporting the NDEC website through in-kind donation of technical support and web hosting, posting its content, and providing a system to update the content as information changes. Our "web guru", Rob Lamb, is with us today!

And, the Guide could not have been done without the financial support provided by the Home Safety Council, which provided funding for the editing of the Guide, which went through literally thousands of updates (both large and small) before publication.

Susan, Ron, and I are now ready for your questions, and we will turn the session back over to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much Rocky, Ron, and Susan.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Rebecca Hansen: Does the guide address customized communication needs of people with disabilities, both the substance of the message, and the means to get the message out using alternative formats?

Rocky Lopes: There is not a separate chapter per se on people with disabilities, however, the Disabilities Preparedness Center is part of the NDEC and reviewed and provided input throughout the hazard-specific as well as general preparedness sections of the Guide.


Lora Hainy: The 1999 Guide had messages for children imbedded in the subject. I've noticed that the 2004 Guide has a brief section at the beginning on talking to children about disasters -- will there be more messages forthcoming on specific subject matters? May we continue to use the children’s messages from the 1999 Guide?

Rocky Lopes: We found that all populations needed to be covered throughout the content, so rather than make special "children's only" messaging in the revised Guide, we composed specific audience-related content, where appropriate, throughout it.


Ray Pena: An observation first - include attending tornado spotter class for tornado preparation. Some studies suggest a car may be safer in severe winds than a mobile home. Are you considering including this?

Ron Gird: Both of those choices are really bad choices – better to find a ditch and burrow as close to the ground as possible.


Lora Hainy: Rocky, may we continue to use specific children's messages from the 1999 Guide? May we (American Red Cross) make a point to bring the 2004 Guide to our next Storm Spotter's training (locally)?

Rocky Lopes: You may use the children's messaging from the 1999 Guide if it does not conflict with any updated info in the revision. You need to compare both. Of course, we ask anyone to bring copies of the revised Guide to any and all meetings, conferences, etc. One more thing, the National Weather Service, that conducts storm spotter training classes, will be providing copies of the Guide to its Warning Coordination Meteorologists.

Ron Gird: Yes, the NWS will provide copies to our 122 forecast offices.


Amy Sebring: Rocky, what is your experience with the media in using the Guide? Are you doing any special outreach there?

Rocky Lopes: Interestingly, we found a reference on CNN.com yesterday to the new version of the Guide. They used it without prompting. We also have issued press releases, as well as several other agencies. We're hopeful that our local contacts who work with local TV/Radio will also make a point to bring the Guide to their attention, too.


Cauveren: When do you expect the terrorism section will be complete?

Rocky Lopes: FEMA/DHS is working on it right now. In fact, while conducting this chat session, I got a call about it. There are many levels of clearance to go through. We hope soon, but can't speak for FEMA/DHS.


Lora Hainy: The 2004 Guide is very good and covers a lot of subjects. If we have specific message requests that cover a large region (i.e., in the Great Lakes region we do not have tsunamis, but we do have seches.) Who and how may we get messages for these more detailed phenomena?

Susan Russell-Robins: Warning information for seche is similar to tsunami. Move inland. I am not sure who issues the warnings. Follow up to seche question. Contact me at [email protected].

Rocky Lopes: That is the great thing about how the NDEC works. When we know of a specific interest, we can update the Guide where appropriate and then notify everyone where it is.

Ron Gird: The local NWS Forecast Offices may be able to help also.


Erin Lettman: Will the NDEC be providing printed copies to Red Cross chapters?

Rocky Lopes: Red Cross answer, the NDEC doesn't exist as an agency, and has no funding. Red Cross will reproduce the printed version of the Guide and stock it in its warehouse (GSD) for chapters to order at cost. Do not know cost yet.


Lloyd Colston: If you gave the URL for the guide, please repeat it. I'd also like to plug the Public Information Officers list at http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/disasterpio. This list is comprised of PIO/PAO from a number of jurisdictions. It is moderated by Chris Floyd with Red Cross and me.

Rocky Lopes: The revised Guide is on the NDEC web site at http://www.disastereducation.org/guide.html.


Avagene Moore: Rocky, I find the idea of clearing up some of the myths around various disaster situations very interesting. I see this as a real need in broad public education. My question: has any thought been given to doing some sort of visual version of this sort of thing in the future? Perhaps a PowerPoint slide presentation or DVD version of myth vs. accurate information? I believe it could be very beneficial to community leaders responsible for disaster safety information.

Rocky Lopes: We love these ideas, and can bring them to future NDEC meetings for consideration. It sometimes boils down to "what it will cost" and "who will do it" and since the NDEC isn't funded and doesn't have staff, we have to squeeze it in to our overloaded work pile.


Gloria Ruggeberg: How do we/ Red Cross get the Guide and how many dollars?

Rocky Lopes: As mentioned before, the printed version of the Guide is NOT ready yet. When it is ready (late August), it will be stocked in the Red Cross warehouse (GSD) and announced via a Connection posted on the Red Cross intranet, CrossNet. We do NOT know cost yet.


Isabel McCurdy: Rocky, were there any big surprises, something different that was unexpected in this book version? And how do Canadians and other internationals get a hard copy of this book? What is your email Rocky to contact you?

Rocky Lopes: I would not say that there were "big" surprises, but more like application of "lessons learned" from some events. Changes were small and large throughout. Unfortunately, the American Red Cross serves only the U.S., and can not provide materials outside the U.S. So to get printed copies outside the U.S. (including Canada), just print it out from the Web site.


Gary Ajello: Will any information be available in the guide on public warning systems, in general? This seems to be an important area that has not received proper attention.

Rocky Lopes: Ron wrote the public warning components scattered throughout chapters of the entire Guide.

Ron Gird: The National Weather Services has a NOAA Weather Radio program and it plans to expand to cover all hazards. Each chapter in the book has a section on NOAA Weather Radio.

Amy Sebring: We have also done a forum session very recently on the All Hazards radio. See the transcript at http://www.emforum.org/vforum/lc040616.htm.


Lloyd Colston: Is there any provision preventing my local EM office printing the Guide for the Chapter that serves me? For example, I was able to obtain a copy of the guide digitally and print it for the chapter. Is that all right?

Rocky Lopes: Of course. The Guide is in the public domain and may be freely reproduced without permission.


Terra Goodnight: Any plans to add content for utility/infrastructure disruptions? Blackouts, water contamination/shortages, water & gas main breaks, gas leaks, telephone or 911 outages? In urban areas, a lot of our disasters aren't of the natural variety.

Rocky Lopes: It's already there in the Appendix.


Virginia Morgan: Rocky, if someone outside the coalition wanted to take a stab at the visual version Avagene suggested, would NDEC be interested in seeing it for possible adoption?

Rocky Lopes: Sure, email [email protected] to discuss/offer.


Dru Hoge: When a voluntary evacuation notice is posted prior to hurricane, we get lots of calls "Should I evacuate?" Are there criteria for helping folks make the decision? Often we find people leaving who really don't have to - live 10 miles inland, etc.

Rocky Lopes: I'll take a stab at that. Dru, I know you're with the Red Cross, and sometimes Red Cross gets calls that really should be directed to local authorities such as EMA. You have to carefully and tactfully deal with them (as I know you personally, you do.) But the situation is that since the Red Cross doesn't call for evacuations, we can't advise; so you need to know to whom to refer and do that.


Debbie Jones: I haven't looked at the entire guide but I didn't see anything specifically targeting seniors. Are they to use the general guides? Are there suggestions for those that may use life support, as to how to develop a backup plan?

Rocky Lopes: There are some general "seniors" issues throughout the guide, but you're right, not a lot of detail. Instead, I suggest you get the booklet "Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities" stock number A5091 (through your local Red Cross chapter) or "Disaster Preparedness for Seniors by Seniors," which address those issues more specifically.


Amy Sebring: Speaking of local agencies, Rocky, we do find that local ARC chapters are much more generally known to the public than local EM agencies. Is there some education in the Guide on that?

Rocky Lopes: No, not really. The Guide gives standard messages about disaster preparedness, not on or about local agencies.


Terra Goodnight: Any studies or research that indicates the best way to reach people to get these messages out (assuming our local media doesn't cover them)? For example, are brochures a less effective way to spend limited dollars than PSAs or Web sites? Also, is there a counterpart to NDEC for city/state agencies?

Rocky Lopes: Yes, a bit of research here, but I'll be brief. Multiple disseminations from multiple sources are required. One agency with one brochure just doesn't do it any more. The primary thing to remember is that people "shop around" for information and when they get the same message from different sources, then tend to do what you want them to do. That's why the NDEC says, "it's the message, not the message deliverer" that is important.


Linda Botts: Are there any recommendations in the Guide for where non-English speaking people can get local watch/warning information? Does NOAA radio broadcast in any language other than English? Where can I direct non-English speakers to get current watch/warning info from?

Ron Gird: NOAA Weather Radio is done on a station by station basis.

Rocky Lopes: To add on, there is no information in the Guide on where non-English speaking people can get information. The Guide is about standard messages, not a guidebook on how to reach at-risk audiences. For that, get disaster education training through your local Red Cross in cooperation with other community-based organizations and local NDEC partners.

Amy Sebring: I just want to commend the Red Cross for getting out there early with some good public information on terrorism at a time when there was a vacuum of information! I expect you had something to do with that Rocky.


Lloyd Colston: If multiple messages are the "norm," what does that do to the Joint Information Center (JIC) concept of one coordinated message from one source?

Rocky Lopes: That's really a response issue. The Guide is really about pre-event, not post-event, messaging. However, the JIC concept is consistent with the NDEC concept of having consistent information. The NDEC concept is "regardless of source" because before an event, people will "shop around."


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much Rocky, Ron and Susan for taking the time to share this valuable information with us today. Please stand by while we make some quick announcements.

We have a great archive of transcripts which you can access by topic from the home page.

If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. Great questions and comments. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Rocky, Ron, and Susan for a fine job.