By Jim Crawford
Published Wednesday, July 18, 2012
| From the September 2012 Issue of FireRescue
Educational materials for the community allow the fire service to share important information with at-risk populations. There is a point in the community risk reduction planning process, though, when someone has to make a decision: Do I develop educational materials, or do I buy them?
There are advantages to developing those materials locally. They can be designed for a very specific problem and audience. The process of designing them can incorporate local needs, culture and even resources when partners are incorporated into the decision-making process. For example, having an elderly volunteer group help design fall prevention materials for an elderly audience can increase the materials’ effectiveness because the volunteers are empowered to own the solutions to the problem. The same concept could apply regardless of the problem or the intended audience.
But it’s not easy designing effective materials. What if our messages aren’t correct and we’re telling people to do the wrong thing? To overstate for effect: Imagine we told people to run when their clothes are on fire. The point of course is that this is totally inappropriate, but how do we know if what we’re saying is correct?
And what if our reading levels are too high and our intended audience cannot understand our messages, even when they are appropriate? What if they can’t read at all? What if their language isn’t English—do I need to know how to translate concepts so that they can be understood? According to a Russian-speaking friend, the literal translation of the words “smoke alarm” in Russian do not refer to a device that measures smoke levels and provides an audible alert to residents.
Sometimes it’s easier, more efficient and ultimately more cost effective to buy materials that have already been developed by those with sufficient resources to answer these questions and test them in advance of final publication to make sure the materials are appropriate. The time and expense we put into development might cost us more than finding the right materials that are available for us elsewhere.
Our fire and life safety community is full of educational materials for safety-related problems—I’ve designed some of them myself. I even received a special award from my mother for one of them! Which is another way of saying that just because they’re available doesn’t mean they are effective. This month I wanted to highlight what I consider one of the basic standards for public education materials: the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Through the years, the NFPA has produced many high-quality materials focused on specific messages. Of course, the ones they produced 80 years ago don’t meet current needs, so they’re always working on updating materials and testing them before production to make sure they’re on target. They provide the time, expertise and financial resources necessary to make sure the materials fit the intended audiences and that the messages are appropriate. The NFPA’s Educational Messages Advisory Committee debates and determines the proper messages to convey. A group of subject matter experts from around the nation can consider the latest available research and identify what it is we should be saying to promote the right behaviors. That basic message can then be put through a creative process to make it appealing to intended audiences; it can then be tested for literacy levels, translations and more.
The NFPA provides these materials in several formats. For example:
• If you need a fire safety curriculum for school, the Learn Not to Burn Preschool Program is being updated with revised lesson plans, songs, posters and sound effects. Three revised lessons have been posted on the NFPA website. The program is a practical, pilot-tested and evaluated program to teach fire safety awareness to children. The lessons are most appropriate for 4- and 5-year-olds but are also appropriate for children in kindergarten.
• Remembering When: A Fire and Fall Prevention Program for Older Adults is centered around 16 key safety messages—eight fire prevention and eight fall prevention—developed by experts from national and local safety organizations, as well as through focus group testing in high-fire-risk states. The program was designed to be implemented by a coalition comprising the local fire department, service clubs, social and religious organizations, retirement communities and others. Coalition members can decide how to best approach the local senior population: through group presentations, during home visits, and/or as part of a smoke alarm installation and fall intervention program.
• NFPA also offers print posters on escape planning, smoke alarms, cooking and heating. Measuring 8½ x 11, the posters can be placed at public venues.
• NFPA safety tip sheets on a variety of fire and life safety topics can be distributed at fire safety events or referred to during talks and presentations.
I have found the NFPA Public Education Section (membership free with an NFPA membership) and the NFPA’s subject matter expertise in reaching out to people at high risk of fire deaths and injuries to be excellent resources for guidance on effective public education campaigns.
If you want to know more about the NFPA’s materials, you can contact Lisa Braxton in the public education office at email@example.com. Almost all of the materials mentioned here are free. The NFPA does charge for some materials it produces but I’ve never seen a non-profit that didn’t have to raise funds to cover their expenses. By the time you figure out how much time and effort is required to design and produce your own materials, it might just pencil out that it’s better to buy.
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