Tips for a Disaster Preparedness Campaign

Lael Wageneck, PIO for the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department
CAPIO President-Elect, Treasurer

A phrase I like to use in my work is “shared responsibility.” Government builds the roads, but it’s up to the public to use them safely. We coordinate how trash is taken from residents and businesses, but it’s up to the public to put the right items in the right bin, or in the case of hazardous waste, not put them in the bin at all.

Preparing and responding to wet weather is a shared responsibility not just between the government and the public but between many government agencies. Mutual aid agreements exist because natural disasters rarely affect only one jurisdiction. While we think about mutual aid as something that only occurs during or following a disaster, multiple agencies also need to work together during the preparation phase.

California Flood Preparedness Week was October 22-29, but preparing for flooding and other disasters is something we do all year. With this in mind, here are some strategies and tactics for helping your community prepare for the rainy season.

Get the basics down:

Links to information: We have a website with various links to local, state, and federal resources for preparing for flooding. The California Department of Water Resources also has a page with great information.

Social Media Posts: Open up that Meta Business Suite or whatever posting solution you use, and schedule posts that include links to that helpful information from now until March.

News Media: Pitch the media on stories that show maintenance crews clearing creeks in preparation for the rainy season. Shots of heavy equipment clearing vegetation (especially from a drone) can be eye-catching.

Plain language: Keep your messages simple and easy to remember when people need to remember them during an incident.

Highlight your agency’s work: Santa Barbara County Public Works recently finished construction on an $18M debris basin in the Thomas Fire Burn Area. Every time we discuss the work we put into building the debris basin, we also discuss work that the public can do to protect their homes and communities.

Cross-promote with other agencies: While construction on the Debris Basin finished in September, we withheld our ribbon-cutting event to hold it on the first day of Flood Preparedness Week. This helped the State Department of Water Resources use our event to help kick off their campaign, and we communicated the importance of our project on a state and federal level.

Data links: One of our most popular websites is a link to all our rain and wind gauges throughout the County. People love seeing how much rain has fallen in their area, and the media uses it to report the same information. The Santa Barbara County site can be found at

Host a weekend event with a non-profit group: I assume most, if not all of us, have been in the position of hosting an event where the only people who show up are staff and elected officials. We recently partnered with a church to install a bike repair station they agreed to purchase and maintain. While none of the media showed up for our Sunday 10 a.m. ribbon cutting, we were joined by nearly 30 residents and church members. At the very least, the event made for great photos and showed the power of public partnerships. When we provide sand and sandbags free of charge, church and community groups will show up to have sandbagging parties. These also make for good photos and allow us to share our messages with the community.

This is just a short list of ideas for conducting an effective disaster preparedness campaign. For more ideas on disaster preparedness outreach, visit the Department of Water Resources Flood Preparation Week website or the Santa Barbara County Public Works Flood Preparedness website.

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