Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Your family's emergency kit is probably a disaster

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue August 27, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New unconventional ad campaign encourages families to create an emergency plan
  • Six out of 10 Americans don't have a disaster plan, according to survey
  • Only 19% said they were very prepared for a disaster
  • One tag line for quirky campaign: Winging it is not an emergency plan

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She's a mom of two girls and lives in Manhattan. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- My mother-in-law and I talk about nearly everything. But when I mentioned to her recently that I was working on a story about emergency preparedness, I realized that's one thing we've never discussed -- even though she lives nearby and would certainly factor into our family plan.

"If a disaster strikes, where would we meet?" we asked each other. "Who would we call? What would we take with us?"

A new national advertising campaign shared with CNN exclusively ahead of its official launch Wednesday aims to get families like my own at least talking about what we'd do in the face of a natural disaster or other emergency.

"This is a pretty fearful topic for a lot of parents," said Priscilla Natkins, executive vice president and director of client services for the Ad Council, the private nonprofit group spearheading the campaign along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"This is not something they want to think about or necessarily talk about with their kids," she said.

The Ad Council, which has produced many memorable PSA campaigns, ranging from Smokey Bear's warnings about forest fires to the "Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk" series, conducted a national survey on emergency preparedness. The survey included 800 adults.

Be prepared for any home emergency

Preparedness in storm's path

Six out of 10 American families said they did not have a family emergency plan, according to the survey. Only 19% felt they were "very prepared" for a disaster.

Tennis stars help Sandy victims

"What we have found (is) despite our best efforts and we have made some impact, we have some terrific messaging out there over the years, not enough people and not enough parents are actually doing what they should be doing in terms of being prepared," said Natkins.

The high cost of weather disasters

To try to change that, the public service announcements are not your typical PSAs. They are light-hearted, funny and unconventional, with scenes such as a family proudly talking about how unprepared they are.

"I'll pack the dead batteries," says the son after his father asks what each family member will do in preparation for an emergency. "I'll only put what I don't need into a duffel bag," says the daughter, with her mom adding, "Great, that's totally unhelpful."

"We think these ads will resonate with audiences because we think the messaging comes from insights that are so universally important to people," said Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, the agency that created the ads pro bono to help raise awareness.

"The fact that most people will admit they don't have a plan or that they can just wing it, which is exactly what we talk about in these ads, is (how) you get people to pay attention and act and say it's time."

Digital tips for the next Sandy-like emergency

The PSAs are timed to release right before the 10th annual National Preparedness Month in September, an initiative managed and sponsored by FEMA to encourage Americans to prepare for emergencies in their homes, schools, businesses and places of worship.

New Jersey homes being raised post-Sandy

"What we try to get people to understand is that number one, not all disasters come with warning labels," said Darryl Madden, director of FEMA's Ready campaign.

Coney Island then and now

"What we also try to make people understand is that don't think of it in terms of the Katrinas or of the Sandys, but think about other events that could happen in your community that present a certain risk that you need to be prepared for."

Emmy win could help Sandy victims

The ads, which will run and air in advertising time and space donated by various media outlets, encourage Americans to visit FEMA's website for kids. The site, with more parent- and kid-friendly content coming September 1, includes information such as a downloadable family emergency plan and guidance on how to talk to kids about emergencies in an age-appropriate fashion.

DiFebo said that her agency's strategy was to create a sense of urgency without going overboard.

"What you don't want to do is be so alarmist that people don't want to pay attention to the message or they say this is just too scary for me and it's too scary for my kids so I'm not going there," she said. "That's really the biggest mistake you can make."

Does your emergency kit have a cell phone?

While my mother-in-law and I had never talked about what we'd do in the event of an emergency and my family still does not have a disaster plan, the subject of emergency preparedness is very close to our hearts.

Stay in touch!
Don't miss out on the conversation we're having at CNN Living. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest stories and tell us what's influencing your life.

A dear family friend, John Solomon, was the founder of a comprehensive blog on the topic, regularly read by FEMA and other emergency preparedness officials, called In Case of Emergency, Read Blog -- A Citizen's Eye View of Preparedness. He created the blog as he worked on a book on simple steps to prepare families for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Sadly, John never finished that book. He died nearly two years ago from complications after a bone marrow transplant for leukemia.

FEMA has since created an award in John's name, and so has the New York City Office of Emergency Management. John's family and friends have also created a fellowship program in his name -- the first student fellowship in New York City government specifically focused on emergency management.

I can't think of a nicer way to honor our dear friend than to finally create an emergency plan of our own and share it with our girls -- tonight.

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:10 AM EST, Wed November 26, 2014
If it hasn't happened already, it likely will at some point: the moment you don't like one of your child's friends. What do you do?
updated 6:50 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
They say the first step to overcoming a problem is realizing you have one in the first place. An online quiz can help you determine whether you are over-reliant on your cell phone.
updated 9:52 AM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Options for meat substitutes have come a long way since Seth Tibbott's first few Thanksgivings as a vegetarian in the 1970s.
updated 4:12 PM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
Students unhappy with school meals are taking it out on the first lady by sharing images on social media of lunches sarcastically tagged #ThanksMichelleObama.
updated 9:55 PM EST, Sun November 23, 2014
A Louisiana family is fighting to protect its beloved pit bull from a "vicious dogs" ordinance.
updated 5:20 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
November is National Adoption Awareness Month. CNN's Michaela Pereira grew up in a family of five adopted girls in Canada and eventually reunited with her biological half-sister.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
It began for Nickolay Lamm as a question: What would Barbie look like if she had the dimensions of an average woman?
updated 9:16 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Bill Cosby was thought of as a perceptive comedian and genial father figure. Now, that persona pairs with another, much darker image.
updated 12:35 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
If you think 'my teen would never sext,' you might be mistaken. Recent studies suggest it's more common than many parents might want to admit.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I pictured myself graduating from college, getting a cool job and even having a cute place of my own. Instead, I wake to the early-morning sounds of my family dog barking and my parents making coffee downstairs.
updated 12:38 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Samantha Futerman and Anais Bordier tease, poke and prod each other like they've grown up together, but they didn't. Neither woman knew she had an identical twin sister until less than two years ago.
updated 9:02 AM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
A school district in Maryland has decided to remove all references to religious holidays from its school calendar, leaving some in the community frustrated.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Thu November 13, 2014
Female veterans often have a harder time finding employment than their male counterparts. But why?
updated 3:19 PM EST, Fri November 14, 2014
I simply couldn't believe my eyes. At a children's party this year, I witnessed full-on "mean girl" behavior.
updated 12:24 PM EST, Mon November 10, 2014
Several children were sent to the hospital after being sickened by ingesting detergent pods.
updated 9:46 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
There are plenty of times when I literally wish I could take a hammer to the portrayal of girls and women in the media. In a new ad, a little girl gets to do just that.
updated 10:09 AM EST, Sat November 8, 2014
"Playing doctor" and "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" are common rites of passage in childhood sexual behavior, according to the experts.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
A tech startup claims credit for making Alex from Target go viral, but there's skepticism about how involved it was, if at all.
updated 5:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A soft toy for cribs lets babies post pictures of themselves to social media.
updated 11:55 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Schools are increasingly confronting a controversial question: Should they do more to monitor students' online interactions off-campus to keep them safe?
updated 11:56 AM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
The National Toy Hall of Fame recently inducted three new favorites into its hallowed halls. What's your favorite?
updated 10:09 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
We don't know, and may never know, what led to the Washington school shooting, but we have to ask ourselves, following this tragedy, if we are doing enough to help our boys deal with difficult emotions without resorting to violence.
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
The viral video of a New York woman being catcalled on the street has men asking, "So, what should I do?" The answer starts with respect.
updated 2:40 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Trick-or-treating and dressing in costume have been Halloween traditions for a good long time now, but it seems we're still struggling to get it right.
updated 4:38 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Yes, there's actually corn in it. Corn syrup, if that counts.
updated 2:28 PM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Walmart found itself sending apology tweet after apology tweet after the Twitterverse raked it over the coals for a major goof on its website.
updated 4:02 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
There aren't too many times when I'm speechless about what I consider an outrageous example of parenting. This is one of those times.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Holy crap, LeVar Burton.
updated 5:38 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Critics pounced on supermodel Gisele Bundchen for advocating a little mommy "me time" recently. When did it become a crime to admit that you -- as a parent -- put yourself first?
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Not again.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
"Breaking Bad's" drug-dealing chemistry teacher Walter White will have to stop making the sale at Toys R Us.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
I happen to agree with Renee Zellweger that all the chatter about her face is "silly." But I, and many other women I talked with via email Wednesday, would add some other choice words to the mix to describe the non-stop attention about her appearance: nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
I have long thought millennials, who expect flexibility in the workplace, would be the group that would bring an end to the stigma that is too often associated with flex time -- the belief that wanting a flexible work arrangement means you aren't willing to work as hard. But now I'm thinking it's going to be men who will get us there.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Say it with us: Kids today have it sooooo easy.
updated 2:29 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
An Atlanta judge reportedly reprimanded an immigration attorney for bringing her 4-week-old to court for a hearing -- a hearing she asked the judge to reschedule because she was on her six-week maternity leave.
updated 11:04 AM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Monica Lewinsky tweeted for the first time. She called herself "patient zero" of cyber-bullying.
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Meet Shyanne Roberts, a 10-year-old competitive shooter with something to prove: "Kids and guns don't always mean bad things happen."
updated 9:50 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
strawberry ghosts
We love Halloween season. Sweets. Sweaters. Sipping hot cider (maybe spiked). Halloween can certainly get you in the spirit, and nothing warms our hearts like these healthy Halloween treats that help you stay energized instead of stuck in a sugar coma.
updated 3:23 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Does your baby cry during long flights, causing you to want to disappear from the glares of fellow passengers?
updated 4:14 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Ask any teen if they suffer from social media anxiety and they would probably tell you no. But the truth is getting "likes" and the fear of missing out are adding stress to teens' lives.
updated 9:13 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Many photographers have taken it upon themselves to document stillborn and terminal babies' precious moments after birth.
updated 3:46 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
As part of the insurance coverage offered to its female employees, Facebook is paying to freeze their eggs.
updated 2:15 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Amal Alamuddin was well-known in many important circles long before she snagged the world's most eligible bachelor. But Amal Alamuddin is now Amal Clooney, according to her law firm's website.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Trends in young adult fiction have shifted from wizards to glittering vampires to bloodthirsty "Hunger Games" and now, to teens coping with illnesses and realistic issues.
updated 8:56 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Before he died this year, 14-year-old Martin Romero wanted to do something for his community.
cnn, parents, parenting, logo
Get the latest kid-related buzz, confessions from imperfect parents and the download on the digital life of families here at CNN Parents.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT