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Tuesday, 8 December 2009

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New Ready LA Website Aims To Prepare Angelinos For Diverse Threats By Making "Unfriendly Subject More Friendly;" City's Social Media Effort Tries To "Fish Where The Fish Are"

I recently had the opportunity to speak with James Featherstone, the General Manager of Los Angeles' Emergency Management Department, about the City's citizen outreach efforts, particularly the relaunch of the Department's website Ready LA.

When it comes to public preparedness, Featherstone has a bad news/good news situation. On the negative side, the Department must prepare and respond to the greatest range of threats of any major city, including wildfires, earthquakes, terrorism, and pandemics. Featherstone notes that Los Angeles faces 13 out of the 16 types of "Major Emergency" as defined in the Stafford Act. (Adding to his challenge is the sheer size of the area as well as the diversity of cultures and languages spoken.)

On the positive, all these potentialities may make it a little easier for him to convince residents that preparedness and planning may be worth their while.

When you go to the Ready LA website, you are immediately struck by the rotating scenic photos of City of Angels landmarks. including the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall, Chinatown Gateway, Santa Monica Pier and Griffith Observatory. The aim is to draw people into the website by making the "unfriendly subject more friendly." I think that approach — emergency management department with a little touch of convention and tourism bureau — may be smart, making the subject of preparedness seem more like a quotidian part of living in a big city, not something that is particularly extraordinary. The website's introduction tries to set the tone:
"The beautiful city of Los Angeles is prone to many natural and man-made disasters. But our Ready LA website can soothe your fears, with important facts, valuable tips and critical reminders for developing plans of action to help you, your family and pets survive every type of conceivable emergency. Most of the time, life goes on here in L.A. without incident. But when calamity strikes… don't panic! Please take a few minutes to review all of our helpful advice."

FRONT PAGE OF READY LA WEBSITE WITH PHOTO OF THE WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL IN LOS ANGELES
The new website is only one of the communications distribution methods, including its Facebook and Twitter pages, that the Department is using to complement traditional media outreach. There is also Spanish language site (and plans to have versions in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and Tagalog.) In 2010, the City will developing a new preparedness website for the disabled to meet the needs of the hearing and visually impaired, according to Mark J. Carreno of Concrete Advertising which oversaw the ReadyLA update.

Featherstone says that it is crucial for emergency managers to offer many approaches and choices to reflect the expanding media environment and the diverse makeup of the population. As he explains, "we have to fish where the fish are."

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.                


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