Communicating in a Crisis: Risk Communication Guidelines for Public Officials has information that can be helpful when developing public messages for the community after a disaster to alert them of any potential risks or where to seek assistance.
Messaging examples provided below include the following:
A blog is a free online tool that disaster response programs can use to communicate messages and status updates to the community. These web pages are easy to create and can help chronicle the recovery of a community as well as provide a place for survivors to share personal stories of resilience.
"Do It Yourself" Blog Templates
There are several free blog websites that programs can use to support legacy projects to chronicle survivor stories and assist with community rebuilding. One such website is Blogger. Free blog websites offer a variety of templates and the ability to post logos and other images so that a disaster behavioral health program can maintain its “branding” and be easily recognized by disaster survivors.
Examples from the Field:
Galveston After Ike
Chron.com, the Houston Chronicle's blog, tells one survivor’s story of the rebuilding of a community after Hurricane Ike. The blog describes events the community engaged in after the hurricane and discusses the positive efforts of Texas’s Crisis Counseling Program.
The Locust-Fork News Journal
This Alabama community news journal blog was used after the April 2011 hurricanes to advertise the reactivation of Alabama’s Project Rebound Crisis Counseling Assistance and Training Program (CCP) in the impacted areas of the state. The blog provided contact information for Project Rebound and an explanation of the services provided to disaster survivors.
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A public service announcement (PSA) is a powerful communication tool that shares educational messages to promote the health, well-being, and the safety of community members. The Federal Communications Commission requires television and radio stations to donate airtime specifically for such announcements, and thus PSAs are a cost-effective option for disaster response programs.
Video or audio PSAs are typically 15, 30, or 60 seconds and can be sent to local radio and television stations and news websites along with a request for local airtime from the program administrator. Disaster assistance programs can also post PSAs on their program websites, Facebook pages, or on YouTube to disseminate their messages themselves at no cost other than the development of the PSA.
PSAs can deliver messages about your organization and its activities. The National Association of Broadcasters suggests that PSAs "should sound like a cross between a news story and a commercial message." Your PSA should be brief, written well, and delivered in a "conversational" manner. It should also be interesting.
PSAs target different news media, as well as different audiences. Your methods for producing a print PSA for your local newspaper will differ from those you use to broadcast a radio or television PSA. Likewise, your audiences will differ, so you may want to make several versions that speak to different populations.
Tips for Writing Public Service Announcements:
- Make PSAs specific to the situation and community. Translate PSAs into languages spoken by a significant number of people within the affected population whenever possible.
- Include all the facts—the who, what, when, where, and why of your program, and any events you are announcing.
- Contact the public service director at each radio or television station to get their specifications for PSAs.
- Use plain language. Avoid acronyms or nicknames that may be unfamiliar to the general public.
- Include a telephone number or website where people can get more information about your program. Because this number will be used on the air, indicate hours when the telephones are answered live.
- Submit announcements to the radio or television station’s public service director as far in advance as possible, and no less than 10 days in advance. Make sure releases are legible and on 8½- by 11-inch paper.
- Include a request for PSA airtime from the program director. Use organization letterhead (if possible) and put a contact name, address, and telephone number on each release.
Radio Public Service Announcements:
Radio is the most widely used medium to deliver PSAs. Radio incorporates fast-paced, continuous programming that never stops. Radio PSAs vary in length.
- 15 seconds (40–45 words)
- 20 seconds (45–55 words)
- 30 seconds (55–85 words)
- 60 seconds (140–160 words)
The length of your PSA limits the scope of your message. However, it is important to always include the "5 Ws" in your message: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
Newspaper Public Service Announcements:
Print PSAs should be simple and pleasing to the eye and should also include contact information for your program. It is best to call the newspaper’s community service department or check the paper’s website before submitting your PSA to find out: a) the preferred format of print PSAs, b) the requirements for graphics and copy length, and c) the submission deadline. Some newspapers may prefer to include announcements of an upcoming event in their community calendar or bulletin board section rather than accept a PSA.
You may also consider submitting a press release about your CCP services to the newspaper in advance of requesting PSA space. A press release that is to be printed or posted on the anniversary of a disaster event is a very good way to attract the attention of the news media as well as survivors. Another option is to submit a letter to the editor if a news story recently covered the disaster.
Within the Examples from the Field section below, you can find links to resources offering sample advertisements and announcements, including several print ads from Louisiana Spirit and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as a press release from the Rhode Island Hope CCP.
"Do It Yourself" PSA Templates
This sample print PSA can be adapted to include your program information, services provided in the affected communities, and where help can be found for survivors after a disaster.
This script, used by the American Samoa CCP, is an example of how long a radio PSA should be, how you can use local talent to advertise your program, and the important information the community will need to reach your program after a disaster.
Examples from the Field:
This web page provides information on the Louisiana Spirit CCP’s comprehensive two-stage media campaign. It includes links to sample flyers, brochures, and print and billboard advertisements, as well as radio and television PSAs. Disaster response programs are free to edit and use the flyers, brochures, and newsletters.
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Disaster behavioral health response program websites can highlight important resources, news, events, survivor stories, and disaster recovery organization contact information.
"Do It Yourself" Website Templates
There are several free and simple website builder templates offered on the Internet such as Wix. Using these templates, a disaster behavioral health program can produce a professional-looking website without incurring the cost of a professional website developer. There are also low-priced (as little as $4.99 per month) domain name websites such as Intuit or GoDaddy.
Examples from the Field:
The following sample program websites reflect disaster response and recovery programs from a range of disasters and offer ideas for other disaster response and recovery programs.
This website documents the “lessons learned” from the Louisiana Spirit CCP and provides sample resources that can be adapted by other disaster behavioral health response programs. Materials include screening and management tools, program activities, and radio and television PSAs.
This disaster behavioral health response program website was established in response to the Gulf Coast hurricanes of 2005 and then adapted for use after a tornado devastated the community of Enterprise, AL. It has been updated further to provide help to survivors of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and the April 2011 tornado outbreak.
SAMHSA Oil Spill Distress
This website highlights the many resources that were created after the Gulf Coast Oil Spill affected several Gulf Coast states. Sample resources include tip sheets for the community, educators, and mental health and health care providers; PSAs; and a social media outreach kit.
Texas People Recovering In Spite of Devastating Events (PRIDE)
This website was established by the Texas Department of State Health Services in order to promote the disaster crisis counseling outreach services provided in response to the 2005 hurricanes. Disaster survivors’ stories are included, as well as sample fact sheets and a project newsletter. The site also has a corresponding Spanish language page. Texas PRIDE was reactivated in response to the 2011 wildfires in Bastrop, Texas, and it can be reactivated at any time if a disaster response is needed in the state. This website has a toggle button, at the upper right side of the site, which allows viewers to see the website in Spanish.
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Disaster behavioral health response programs are using free social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter to advertise program services, provide outreach to disaster survivors, and promote psycho-education. Included below are examples of such Facebook pages.
Examples of Facebook Pages from the Field:
Project Recovery Iowa on Facebook
These Facebook pages contain information on group meetings, fairs where the program will be in attendance, and the mission statement for the program.
RI HOPE on Facebook
This Facebook page for the RI HOPE CCP provided consistent updates on the program and used the Photos and Links pages to provide additional details and information for survivors affected by the 2010 flooding.
Tennessee Recovery Project on Facebook
This Facebook page for the Tennessee Recovery Project CCP contains information on the counties that were affected, the providers’ contact information, and program updates.
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Twitter has rapidly become the ultimate platform for sharing brief messages and exchanging link content. It is also a great way to send messages quickly to the community about an upcoming event or to connect to users to make it possible to send them alerts in the event of future disasters.
A quick checklist for every tweet:
- Always start with a capital letter.
- Always use a capital letter with each new sentence (and you only need one space after the period or other punctuation mark at the end of a sentence).
- Use correct spelling and grammar. Learn the difference between your and you’re; its and it’s; and there, their, and they’re.
- Avoid capital letters, as they make it LOOK LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING.
- Avoid text-speak at all costs. It is better to take the extra time to make sure your message is conveyed clearly within the 140-character limit for each tweet.
Example of Twitter from the Field:
SAMHSA on Twitter
This Twitter page for SAMHSA contains information on upcoming events and announcements and highlights new products.