Friday, October 24, 2014

Paper Bushfire Plans Putting Lives at Risk

ACT Bushfire Survival Plan This is to suggest revising Australia's emergency preparedness advice to householders for fires and other emergencies, replacing long paper based documents, with graphical web pages and Apps. As this is primarily an education exercise, the techniques developed for on-line adult eduction can be applied.

ABC has provided the useful video "What would you do if a bushfire threatened your home?", but the accompanying text points out a flaw in Australian emergency planning. In "Facing a disaster: the brain makes it harder than you expect", it says the video "... demonstrates the need for a plan that is written down ...", but then "It demonstrated in graphic fashion the difficulties people have ...". The key word here is graphic: the video with images is a more effective form of communication than writing.

The Bushfire Survival Plan from the ACT Emergency Services Agency is a 24 page document which is designed to be read on paper. While it is available as a PDF download, the document contains pages which are in landscape mode and appear sideways on screen. This document is hard enough to read on a desktop computer screen, let along a smart-phone. The document includes a photo of a family sitting around a table with one member diligently filling out the paper form in the printed booklet. This is far from the reality of how a 21st Century family interacts, as such a family would typically have several smart-phones and tablet computers at the table, with no paper.

Emergency Exit Sign with Running Man Graphic
People have difficulty reading large amounts of text, particularly when stressed. For this reason emergency exit sings in buildings no longer have the word "EXIT" but instead a pictogram of a running man. I suggest taking the same approach to emergency plans. There should be the option of completing the emergency plan via a web page and app, with more graphics and less text. All the members of the family should then be able to access the plan on their smart phone or Internet account.

Communicating this information can take advantage of the expertise available from on-line adult education, where busy distracted people are helped through the process of learning. One way top do this is to advise the student what they are going to learn and what they will have to do up front. ACT emergency booklet does not do this, taking until page 16, more than half way through, to get to the actual form. Most householders are unlikely to ever read to this point.  I suggest this could be "flipped" and the householder being told they task they have and then the materials in support of that task.

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