Finding New Ways to Engage our Residents

On behalf of the Citizen Corps Council of St. Clair County, Michigan and the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, I am honored to represent the Council as a White House Champion of Change.  We are all thrilled to have received FEMA’s 2011 Individual and Community Preparedness award for “Innovative Use of Technology.”  We are passionate about Citizen Corps’ mission to make communities safer, stronger, and better prepared to respond to disasters of all kinds. 

Major events potentially affect all types of essential services in both government and private sectors. These are services that residents expect to be delivered, are required by other services to function, and are critical to the life safety of residents. If these services collapse, the result would be a grave threat to life and limb. Failure to properly ensure the continuity of essential governmental and private sector services in the wake of a natural disaster or terrorist attack could result in societal chaos.  During the response and recovery periods of a crisis, the public relies on the government to provide essential services. Federal, state and local governments maintain plans identifying the roles and responsibilities of those disciplines and agencies that provide those services. However, these plans often do not align with the expectations of the private sector.  Educating the private sector about our government’s ability to meet those expectations is the foundation for community preparedness within St. Clair County.

The most basic and essential planning activity is ensuring the readiness of our residents in the event of large scale events in which expected response services cannot be provided in a timely or expected time period.    We have a limited number of skilled and highly-trained emergency responders but in a large scale event they cannot provide assistance to all the residents. For a successful response to any major disaster, communities need to move towards self- sustainment which requires the core function of prepared citizens through a whole community effort.  To accomplish this, a portion of the overall strategy was to localize FEMA’s Ready message, “Get a kit.  Make a plan.  Be prepared.”  We launched our new community preparedness campaign “Be Ready St. Clair County” which focuses on individuals, families, and businesses preparing for self-sustainment for 72 hours.

We began “Be Ready St. Clair County” by creating a logo depicting our message and land marks from around our county.  We started with traditional marketing methods and although these efforts were successful in establishing brand recognition, we knew it was time to grow and pursue new ways to engage our residents.  Our first step was developing social media.  First we created an interactive website, www.BeReadyStClairCounty.org, followed by Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube pages.  Our number of Facebook followers reached over 700 people in five months. This became a new avenue to share preparedness information as well as a redundancy tool for alerts and warnings.

Next we moved on to printed marketing materials but we wanted to focus on new avenues. We created our first annual preparedness calendar in which each month features a different preparedness theme related to a local risk.  The calendars were a big hit with 20,000 being spread throughout the community.  Next, we worked with individuals with access and functional needs to create “Help/OK” signs for this population to be used in times of emergency in their windows.  Preparedness booklets were printed with large font and pictures for our challenged residents.  Finally, 75 Brailed books on local risks and preparedness topics were distributed to blind residents throughout the county.

Of all of our efforts in the past year, we are most proud of our first annual Video and Ad contest.  We wanted to think of a way to engage the public that was innovative, fresh, and fun yet sustainable through annual budget cuts. Rather than the same people recreating the same old message to push at the public, we thought it would be advantageous to let the public share their ideas on preparedness and safety messages.  The contest was broken down into three age categories and entrants could choose amongst nine topics to create a 60-second video, 30-second audio PSA, and/or a print handout.   Prizes consisted of donated Best Buy gift certificates in various amounts depending on the type of entry and placement in the contest.  We advertised throughout the county and in all of our local school districts. We were very pleased that the contest resulted in 118 submissions that we now have available for use to spread the “Be Ready” message that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars to create and produce.  Winners were awarded at the Annual Emergency Services Breakfast in front of approximately 400 community leaders.  Winners were recognized on Facebook, the Be Ready St. Clair County Website, YouTube, and in the local newspaper.  Their work was showcased in a display at the Best Buy Fort Gratiot store with the videos looping on a TV, posters of the print handouts, and audio PSAs being played on the overhead speakers.  Winning audio PSAs were each aired 160 times for a month on four local radio stations.  Winners were given the opportunity to go in the Radio First studio to re-record their PSAs using state-of-the-art equipment under the guidance of professionals.  Video PSA winners were featured and interviewed on the local cable Channel 6 “Focus” show by Paul Dingeman, which airs in three cities and on the Web.  The youngest video winner, a 13-year old, exclaimed with a huge smile on his face, “I can’t believe the publicity I’m getting!” Their videos will now begin to air before each movie at the mall theatre for two months each.  The exposure will be to approximately 22,000 movie-goers per month.  The creativity and quality of work of our winners is a true testament to the benefits of empowering the community in emergency preparedness efforts.

I am honored to represent Citizens Corps of St. Clair County as the Citizen Corps Coordinator and must recognize all of the community leaders on the Council whose collaboration and synergy have made this campaign a success. 

 Under Sheriff Tom Buckley – St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office
Jeffrey Friedland – St. Clair County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director
Journalist William Gilmer – Radio First Journalist
Jim Goldsworthy – Retired Principal
James Jones – St. Clair County Community College Criminal Justice Instructor
John Misaros –Hamtramck Energy Services Project Coordinator
Bonnie Mitchener – St. Clair County CERT Team Leader
William Shagena – Fort Gratiot Firefighter
Sandy Smith – East China Township Office Manager
Lonnie Stevens – United Way of St. Clair County Executive Director
Mary Taylor – St. Clair County Council on Aging Assistant Director

Jodi Simpson is a Homeland Security Planner for the St. Clair County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.  She serves on the Michigan Region 2 North Citizen Corps Committee and is the Coordinator for St. Clair County Citizen Corps.

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