Building community conversations around preparedness in Baltimore

Building community conversations around preparedness in Baltimore

The Make a Plan. Build a Kit. Help Each Other campaign is being run by the City of Baltimore, Office of Sustainability to encourage Baltimore City residents to start engaging in conversations about preparing for climate impacts with a specific focus on neighborhoods most vulnerable to climate change impacts.

The campaign is focused on preparedness for all natural hazards and predicted impacts from climate change in the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast Region. Our first step was to develop a communications framework for all sustainability and resiliency work coming out of the Office of Sustainability. The framework acts as a guide for campaign development by helping us identify the intended audience, messengers, channels for communicating the message, and frequency of communication. After creating the framework, we moved directly onto utilizing it for a campaign focused on preparedness to the impacts of climate change.

We decided to launch this campaign at the Commission on Sustainability’s annual Town Hall event, which was being held in one of the communities most vulnerable to heat. We conducted outreach through our neighborhood group leaders, our website, social media, and also flyers in the communities around the site. Many of the residents from the surrounding area were able to walk to the meeting location and we provided free busing for residents in areas where public transportation is lacking. This helped over 300 people attend the launch.

Free CPR training provided at the event.

The preparedness campaign titled, Make a Plan. Build a Kit. Help Each Other is focused on increasing the adaptive capacity of communities and the preparedness of individual residents and families. The event launch and smaller community events post-launch are almost entirely hands-on events broken into three main opportunities: plan development, kit making and community asset identification. The intent is to give residents the opportunity to sit down with experts with access to maps and data to accomplish each of these tasks. The City provides maps, emergency plan sheets and all the materials necessary to develop preparedness kits including hand-crank radios, flashlights with batteries, water bladders, emergency whistles, first aid kits, and a variety of other materials. Staff also sit down with residents to identify existing assets and shortcomings in their community in an effort to build community adaptive capacity.

Climate Committee member showing possible evacuation routes to a resident

One exciting and simple part of this campaign was the development of our Help/Safe Card. The Help/Safe Card is a piece of cardboard that says Help in bright orange on one side and Safe in bright green on the other side. We encourage residents to use these cards in their windows during or after an event takes place to inform their neighbors if they need help or are safe. This simple card helps build stronger community ties and ability to respond. The preparedness campaign is now being done in smaller neighborhood meetings and at senior centers city-wide.


Sustainability Commissioner teaching residents how to use the Help/Safe Sign

A final successful element of our climate campaign is the integration of climate into the already successful Baltimore Energy Challenge peer-to-peer network and the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management (MOEM) Certified Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. Energy Captains are being transitioned into Climate Ambassadors that are able to speak to both mitigation and adaptation in communities. We have also begun working with MOEM to develop a ninth section of the CERT training that focuses specifically on messaging and working with communities on the Make a Plan. Build a Kit. Help Each Other campaign.

We were able to measure success of our outreach events by asking four simple questions before and after our events:

1.     Do you know what natural hazards are most likely to occur in your neighborhood?

2.     Do you have an emergency plan?

3.     Do you have an emergency kit?

4.     Have you taken action to help your community prepare?

We had attendees answer by placing dots in a yes or no category upon entry and upon exit. We were extremely successful in educating people about the natural hazards they face, having everyone leave with an emergency plan and kit, and also getting most people to begin engaging with others around preparedness in their neighborhood.

We had so many people excited about the initial event that word traveled fast and a large number of neighborhood associations and community groups reached out and requested the campaign in their neighborhood. To date, we have had five neighborhood meetings and have many more scheduled in upcoming months.

The main things we have learned through the process are to keep the message simple and get out into the communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and therefore need the most assistance. We found that outreach is more effective when there are hands-on opportunities for people and collaboration with local residents, which connect to things people care about: health, safety, savings and comfort.

It’s important to recognize the barriers to engagement and involvement on the issue and work to break those down through peer-to-peer efforts, neighborhood ambassadors, providing access to transportation, free food and/or giveaways.

Most importantly though, we learned that you have to remember to have fun in the process – all doom and gloom isn’t going to be enjoyable for anyone.

all images via Kristin Baja, City of Baltimore