A bleg for natural disaster nudges

Raymond Cheung (the man behind the organ donation iPhone app) also happens to work in the field of emergency management. Because inertia is such a serious impediment to emergency preparedness–for individuals and households, that is–Cheung wonders if readers know of nudges, or can come up with new ones, that will help people prepare for a possible disaster. Any and all ideas are welcome.



5 Responses to “A bleg for natural disaster nudges”

  1. Jason Bade Says:

    Having only recently left high school, I (not so fondly) remember being timed during fire drills. Main goal: how quickly could we exit the building? The problem was that the school only went part-way. The trick, I think, should have been taking advantage of our innate sense of competition. If our school’s numbers were then compared to our rival school, I’m sure people would have been more interested in getting out of the building more quickly.

    Similarly, I think creating some friendly competition amongst households and even neighborhoods can work to promote increasingly more efficient models of emergency preparedness. Towns could organize semi-annual competitive “obstacle courses,” so to speak, among neighborhoods in which all families must accomplish a prescribed set of tasks (e.g. turning off the gas, properly assembling the family outside, extinguishing a small [controlled!] fire, etc.). I know the same peer pressure has been used to get different neighborhoods to be greener than their counterparts, so its successful application to emergency preparedness seems possible.

    Hope this helps!

    • Jason Bade Says:

      Another thing I just thought of plays into the endowment effect. Say when someone buys a house, includes in the costs (along with all the inspections, etc.) a home emergency preparedness consultation from a city employee. If the soon-to-be homeowner wants, she is free to opt out and pay no additional dime. But, given the likely low cost of such consultations in relation to the price of the house and given the inertia of endowment, my bet is that most homeowners would go for it. I’m sure a similar strategy could be employed with renters, as well.

  2. Abe Says:

    Promote and give incentives to home inspectors (those who evaluate a home for a new buyer) who provide emergency prep materials (i.e., a booklet) and additional incentives/promotional support for those who provide additional services/recommendations (i.e., tell the new owner where they should go in the event of earth quakes or provide recommendations for how to react to new of an approaching fire – alternate roads to escape from, etc).

    The same incentives/promotional support could be provided to energy inspectors/auditors – these groups are supported in part by local government already, but those which provide emergency prep services/materials as part of their audits could be given additional incentives for the privilege of piggybacking the emergency prep service on their already helpful services.

    How to get enough medical kits, bottled water, and food rations into a given house may be harder. Perhaps competition with neighbors or a neighborhood group to partially centralize and reduce costs and efforts (i.e., I’ll pay my neighbor to buy, transport, and store in his shed enough supplies from Costco for my family plus his costs and then some). This is even more important for apartment dwellers or very rural neighbors: the city folks don’t have the storage place individually, but would be well served to fill someone’s extra room with the supplies and pay them some upfront rent for the privilege. The rural neighbors have space, but the costs of researching the right supplies and then retrieving them is higher so collectivizing those efforts will have a much bigger payoff.

    These could be given an additional inventive where purchased in large amounts: buy a supply for three families and get a tax credit or gift card.

    Good luck and thanks for the excellent app!

  3. Ross Parker Says:

    Take a postcode (ZIP code) then cross-reference against an insurer’s database. Find the average distance from the individual’s house to the nearest house that is currently on fire, burgled, etc (through stats averages and pop density). Display this.

    E.G. You live at SW1P 4JN

    A house within 600m of yours will be burgled today.
    A house within 1.2km of yours will burn down.

  4. Shai Idelson Says:

    It’s an interesting problem indeed. How do you get people to spend resources now on preventing something that MAY happen to them in the future.

    One way is to try and remove the probability aspect – find a way to reduce the dependency on probability judgments from the perception of risk. Another way is to introduce another factor. If you can communicate to people the emotional benefits of knowing that their families are safe, that would go along way. Communicate the desired end state and show how easy it is to get there. If there is a certain financial incentive (like in the case of wind mitigation for Florida residents) for preparation then that’s even better.

    The other thing to think about is ways to reduce the perceived cost of preparation. Perhaps giving people “preparation to do lists” and letting them set target dates for items would be a good idea.

    Then if you can do it, show people how others similar to them have prepared and what results they have achieved from it. My thinking is that one video of a happy prepared family can be even more valuable (and easier to obtain) than statistics and numbers like “50% of the homes in your areas are protected”

    Good luck…

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