A Designer's Guide to Emergency Preparedness

Jan 09, 2018WORDS BY Kate Lydon & Anna Hartley VISUALS BY Mehek Sharma

This winter, wildfires raged across California. The air has been heavy with smoke and thick with the power of Mother Nature. And the Left Coast isn’t the only place to be hit by a natural disaster recently (Hello Eastern Seaboard, Houston, Puerto Rico, Florida). As climate change accelerates, getting prepared is on all of our minds.

As designers who have worked on multiple preparedness and relief projects, we start by understanding why people choose not to prepare, then identify ways to make resilience easier.

Just like buying life insurance, or saving for a rainy day, a future emergency is an abstraction that’s hard to connect to our day-to-day priorities. And unlike seeing everyone else’s trash cans line the curb once a week, preparedness doesn’t have any visible prompts to encourage all of us to get with the program.

Symbols of participation can be powerful change agents, and we know that something as simple as filling out a checklist or talking about a plan can make the abstract tangible.

So what can you do today, for tomorrow?

Break down the process into bite-sized tasks, attach them to a concrete timetable, and connect with the people around you. By building strong connections with your community and taking the time to create a plan, you’ll be more equipped when the big one hits (whatever the big one might be.)

Here are a few simple steps to get you started—collaboratively—in just a week. Share this with your family, your roommate, your colleagues, or your book club.

Now: Follow Local Alerts

Make sure you know what’s going on around you. Follow local emergency alerts from the Fire Department and/or your local Department of Emergency Management on the social media platform you use most (Twitter, Facebook, NextDoor, etc.).

Tomorrow: Copy Your Documents

Scan and store a copy of your important documents. Take a photo of or scan your driver’s license, passport, lease/ownership documents, social security card, and other important documents. Save them (somewhere safe) in the cloud.

This weekend: Gather Your Stuff

Start assembling an emergency kit. Print out our list of essentials, useful stuff, and personal items to get started. You’ll be surprised at how much you already have—it’s just a matter of getting it all in one place. And when it comes to supplies, a good rule of thumb is to have enough for three days.

Next week: Make a Plan

Make an emergency plan with your people. Have friends or family over for dinner and hatch it together. Use this form to help you facilitate the conversation, pick a meeting spot, and collect phone numbers on paper. It’s like giving a spare key to a neighbor. Do it once, and hopefully, you'll never need to use it.

Cross these four things off your list, and we’ll all be better off when the next wildfire or bomb cyclone hits.

  • IDEO Alum

    • IDEO Alum

      Anna is a Communications Design Lead with a background in writing, and a passion for combining storytelling and strategy. She has worked across private, social and public sectors to create more relevant, relatable and impact-driven designs.

      • IDEO Alum

        Mehek Sharma is an interaction and product designer playing in the large spectrum between these fields. She has roots in India but living in Asia and Europe has shaped her global outlook. She loves exploring new tech and is very curious about augmented reality.

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