It is the honor of a lifetime to be called a ‘Champion of Change’. My mission as Emergency Preparedness Coordinator at Wisconsin Emergency Management is simple: to educate and empower people to prepare for and respond to emergencies and disasters. The critical information I spread across our state ultimately saves lives. We call our effort “ReadyWisconsin”. I tell people how to get ready for emergencies in many different ways.
First, I produce media campaigns designed to highlight specific actions people can take to prepare for trouble. For example, last April we created a :30 public service announcement featuring a couple from Park Falls, Wisconsin. Their lives were saved by having an emergency weather radio while camping. The weather radio warned Larry and Rita Krznarich that a tornado was headed for their camp site. They warned others of the impending storm. Everyone took cover just as the twister hit. Larry is convinced that without that weather radio, he and Rita along with other campers would be dead. Not only did that PSA air across the state, we partnered with a major retailer and a major radio manufacturer along with TV stations across Wisconsin to promote the use of emergency weather radios in every home.
In another campaign we asked NASCAR champion and Wisconsin native Matt Kenseth to team up with ReadyWisconsin to encourage everyone to have an emergency winter survival kit in their vehicle. We gave away emergency kits on our website (http://readywisconsin.wi.gov) as part of our “ReadyWisconsin Trivia Challenge”.
We also reach out to people through social media. We have thousands of on Facebook and Twitter. Everyday we send tips on how to be ready for emergencies. We also send out real-time alerts on potentially dangerous situations around the state. And our followers write us back with great stories and tips of their own. And we have awesome relationships with media outlets that help spread the preparedness message through news stories.
But two of the best things I enjoy doing can be traced back to my mom, Barbara Pritchard. She was a grade school teacher here in Wisconsin. She loved kids and she loved to inspire others. So when we had the chance to get FEMA’s STEP program (Student Tools for Emergency Planning) into schools across our state, I jumped at the chance. It is a simple curriculum that can be taught in an hour which gives 5th graders the basics in preparing for emergencies. In the 2010-11 school year, 2400 students participated in the STEP program. For 2011-12, we’ll have 5500 students in 240 classrooms across Wisconsin. Teachers love it and the students get it and spread the word to their parents and others. STEP is a tremendous success here.
And I get to be a teacher of sorts when I talk to civic groups, senior centers and churches about how to get themselves and their members ready. It is that one to one contact with people that makes me feel like I’m making a difference.
Sometimes I get a call from a senior citizen or someone on a fixed income who wishes they had an emergency winter kit or an emergency radio but just can’t afford it. I find a way to get it to them. The gratitude you get is worth its weight in gold.
Yes, it is about being a champion of change. And I’ll continue to look for new ways to get the people of Wisconsin ready for anything.
Tod Pritchard is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for Wisconsin Emergency Management, overseeing ReadyWisconsin.