By Lonna Calhoun, CEM

Those of us working in emergency management understand the importance of and the challenges of promoting emergency preparedness within vulnerable population groups. During disasters people with physical and mental disabilities, language barriers, and economic challenges fare far worse.  With the help of our platinum sponsors Phillips66 and State Farm, and a grant from the Centers for Disease through the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience project (LACCDR), COPE Preparedness accepted the challenge to implement the emergency preparedness program, Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) In Spanish, to the largely Hispanic community ofWilmington,California.

Statistics show that 90% of all survivors of disasters are rescued by other survivors. To address that reality and in fulfillment of COPE Preparedness’ mission to “Promote Emergency Preparedness through Proactive Community Outreach” we have been implementing the Map Your Neighborhood (MYN) emergency preparedness program in Los Angeles communities for several years. MYN is a program specifically designed to help neighborhoods prepare for disaster. Neighbors learn to work together as a team to evaluate their neighborhood following a disaster to increase neighbors’ capacity to survive and be self-sufficient for the first 72 hours after a disaster. This is particularly important when local police, fire, paramedic, and other professional responder services are overwhelmed. The MYN program was designed by the Washington State Emergency Management Department, it is FEMA endorsed and has been successfully implemented in 22 states.  Washington State has designed the handouts and translated them into several languages including Spanish; they also have a program DVD that has Spanish subtitles. As the Founder and Director of the non-profit COPE Preparedness and as a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) I have organized, presented and attended hundreds of preparedness workshops, so I felt prepared to tackle this project. In my advance estimation it would be a “piece of cake” to take the program to the Hispanic community.  The “piece of cake”, however, turned into an undertaking in which this ‘teacher’ became the learner.

Challenges in Outreach

In organizing preparedness events the first challenge is to get the message about the event to the target market. We began our outreach to community organizations and individuals to gather their support and engage them in the promotion of the event. We made contact with over 50 local organizations, including schools, PTA’s, churches, non-profits, YMCA, chambers of commerce, neighborhood councils, elected officials, community clinics, and local businesses that had extensive experience with marketing to this specific population group. We explained what the program was, how we intended to present it, and asked for their feedback and assistance. Through these efforts, we quickly learned that our usual means of outreach including

Social media, email marketing, newspaper print ads would not reach the intended market due to not only language but also literacy barriers and cultural differences. The feedback from our community contacts suggested that literacy was a major issue that would affect our program and outreach efforts. They suggested the most effective way to reach the Hispanic households was to distribute flyers within the schools. Typically the children bring the message home and they often read and translate the information for their parents.  This was excellent feedback from those “in the know”.  The issue we encountered with this information was factoring it into the design of the program and the cost of the marketing. Normally flyers have not proven to be cost effective to our outreach efforts. When COPE Preparedness promotes an event our primary source of marketing is internet based, and therefore very cost effective. However this is only possible because of the extensive outreach we have done in the Harbor Area since 2003 by which we have built an email data base of almost 5000. If you are reading this article you are part of that data base.

Our event date and venue was already set for July when many schools were out for the summer. Even so, we printed over 5000 flyers in both Spanish and English and distributed them in the schools that were open and in other locations such as libraries, markets, churches, and businesses. We still conducted our usual means of internet marketing with the understanding that it likely would not reach our audience. We also revamped our presentation to replace the DVD with sub-titles and developed a PowerPoint presentation with informative pictures and a live presenter.  We were also told that a small give-a-way preparedness gift would be a big motivator. Thus we extended our budget to offer emergency kits to the first 25 attendees. Initially I felt that this was bribing attendance but I was humbled when some attendees waited in line for hours to get a kit. We also modified the curriculum into three components to be more audience specific.  We spent 1/3 of the 2 hour presentation on the “WHY” we should prepare, 1/3 on the “HOW TO’s” of basic preparedness. For this section we invited the American Red Cross to teach their basic preparedness program in Spanish.  The last 1/3 was on the actual MYN or the “block by block” neighborhood mapping program.

 Lessons learned

 Most of COPE Preparedness events easily draw over a 100 attendees. This event had about 50 although 76 registered. Evaluations of the event were excellent with a 4.5 out of 5 rating for event satisfaction. The attendees were eager for the information and I believe we made a positive impact.

That being said, it was a comparatively expensive event for a small non-profit venture and especially expensive compared to the cost of outreach to the English speaking population. The expense of outreach to non English speaking populations has been a determent to community resilience. In fact the Centers for Disease through the Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience project (LACCDR) which funded our grant has been studying this issue and our grant project was intended to be a learning experience.

More about the LACCDR project:

 Los Angeles County Community Disaster Resilience (LACCDR) project is a collaborative effort sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), UCLA Center for Health Services and RAND that aims to engage community-based organizations in providing leadership and partnership to promote community resilience in the face of public health emergencies such as pandemics and disasters. It is multi-year effort designed to strengthen disaster resilience inLos AngelesCountycommunities. Since Fall 2010, the project has engaged a broad array of community stakeholders representing government agencies and community-based organizations to identify and develop strategies that would bolster resilience. During 2010-2012, the project engaged these stakeholders through community forums, working groups, and community surveys.  Starting in the Summer of2012, asample ofLos Angelesneighborhoods will serve as demonstration communities, using information from the development phase of the project to actually implement and test these community resilience building strategies. COPE Preparedness is proud to have been a part of this project and a recipient of the mini-grant to fund our effort.


 We believe the effort is worth it. We will do it again and each time we do the expenses will go down. Outside of the reusable expenses in translation of materials and developing contact lists the largest expense was the flyers, the kits and the personnel hours needed to conduct outreach to generate word of mouth about the event.

We learned that the community is hungry for this information.  We found that in general the Hispanic community has a “cultural” attitude of community, family and an instinct for survival as well as life-skills that will enhance their ability to survive and self-sustain. They are eager to learn more and realize the importance of self-reliance.

Because we did conduct aggressive grass roots outreach we made many new contacts that have expressed interest in providing venues and attendees for future events. We determined that our next events should be conducted in conjunction with other organizations that can provide venues and guaranteed attendees such as churches or schools.


COPE Preparedness wants to acknowledge the sponsors who are the “wind beneath our wings” especially our PLATIUM sponsors PHILLIPS66 and State Farm.  We also receive consistent support from Providence Little Company ofMaryMedicalCenters and the International Longshoremen Workers Union (ILWU).  Their support allows us to continue to fulfill our mission of “Promoting Emergency Preparedness through Proactive Community Outreach”.



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