How Can We Empower Spontaneous Citizen (Not First) Responders? Nudge Them.
With limited resources, increasing challenges, and ever-increasing expectations, FEMA’s push to empower individual community members to be the help until help arrives is more pertinent than ever. The agency has recognized that spontaneous responders are crucial to disaster response and recovery and has worked to integrate individuals into disaster response frameworks and doctrine. But on an individual level, people are still notoriously bad planners – especially with unplanned events that occur on short notice, as most natural disasters do. How can FEMA harness behavioral science insights to foster a stronger culture of individual preparedness in communities susceptible to disasters? Behavioral science insights – or “nudges” – can be used to influence behaviors on an individual level to encourage citizens to prepare before a disaster strikes their region – not just respond in its aftermath.
In recognizing that is it impossible for any agency to provide immediate disaster response and recovery for millions of people, FEMA openly encourages individuals to become de facto emergency responders in their communities. The whole community approach to emergency management and the “you are the help until help arrives” campaign places the onus of readiness on the individual, instead of viewing citizens as helpless victims or extraneous bystanders in disasters.
But how will individuals become spontaneous responders if they themselves are unprepared? By using behavioral science, individuals can be nudged towards preparedness well in advance of an emergency. For example, studies on behavioral science find that educating people about a specific risk doesn’t spur them to take action. However, asking people if they intend to take action and what they intend do causes them to internalize that action and follow-through on it. Based on these insights, more efficient messaging might pose a question to individuals in high-risk regions on whether they intend to prepare and how, rather than just providing them with information about a risk. Nudges such as these cost very little to implement, but could increase the number of people who take steps to prepare.
In nudging members of the community into better preparedness, those who may become spontaneous responders will be better equipped to take some of the burden of response and recovery away from government agencies, thereby mitigating risk and increasing community resilience.
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