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Ready.gov Boosts Focus on Security

The Department of Homeland Security's public service campaign to alert Americans against terrorism is attracting hordes of telephone callers and online visitors for a brochure called “Preparing Makes Sense. Get Ready Now.”

From Feb. 19 to April 17, the 1-800-BE-READY number received 124,479 callers, with 93,696 people requesting the brochure by mail. Online, the brochure was downloaded 2.1 million times since launch through April 23, with 379,907 downloads of the visual guides on the same www.ready.gov Web site.

“This campaign is still new, so we'll continue to evaluate its effectiveness for months to come, but the early lesson out of all this is that it's much easier to raise public awareness of the need for preparedness than it is to motivate people to action,” said Lara Shane, adviser of media affairs at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.

“Affecting behavioral change is a key challenge,” she said. “The good news is people are very interested in this information and are actively seeking it out.”

The 12-page brochure talks about potential threats, emergency supplies and planning, specific terrorist threats and the need to stay calm.

A campaign involving television, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor and online using donated media time and space conveyed news of this Ready effort. In addition, a public relations outreach is claimed to have resulted in an estimated 105 million people having seen or read about the Ready campaign by February's end.

Soon, such information will appear in Yellow Pages directories, billboards and various Web sites.

The Yellow Pages Integrated Media Association and the Association of Directory Publishers will work with their members to publicize the Ready campaign in 500 million directories due for nationwide release in the next year and a half.

Similarly, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America has committed to donating ad space worth $17.7 million through the next year.

Like the other elements of the ad campaign, these media vehicles will aim to drive U.S. residents to the toll-free number and ready.gov.

The Advertising Council Inc. and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, both New York nonprofits, produced the pro bono campaign. The Martin Agency, Richmond, VA, handled creative, and Ruder Finn Interactive, New York, created ready.gov.

“At this time, we're unable to quantify which media has garnered the most support for this campaign,” said Chris Neal, campaign director at the Ad Council. “Traditionally, the Ad Council has found that approximately 50 percent of our media coverage comes from radio public service announcements.”

Whatever the attribution, the media have worked. Take the estimated metrics using the WebTrends tracking tool. Ready.gov has drawn 14.5 million unique visitors from the campaign's launch through April 23.

As expected, phone call volume spiked Feb. 19, the day Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge began the campaign. It stayed high the next two days, spiking again when the terror alert was raised to orange March 18. Call volume was high throughout the first two weeks of the Iraq war.

The 1-800-BE-READY line does not use live agents. It is automated, beginning with a message from Ridge. Callers are guided through a menu system to order a brochure.

“The government is not permitted to gather personal information about callers, so we're unable to know about the type of people who call,” Shane said.

The phone and site channels have synergy, however. The site promotes the toll-free number, and Ridge's recorded message directs callers online.

Online, the pages on the “Biological” and “Nuclear Blast” topics received the most attention after the home page. The next-most-popular pages are the preparation ones, which serve the campaign's purpose of gearing people for any likely terrorism.

Ready.gov will be refreshed when necessary. The Department of Homeland Security developed an internal review system to evaluate current and new content. Minor revisions will be made and graphics added when appropriate. Down the road, the information will be tailored for businesses and schools.

So, the Department of Homeland Security essentially is using this effort to stress that there are a few simple things people can do now to minimize the effect a disaster may have on their lives. As a corollary, it wants them to take three steps: Make a kit, make a plan and get informed.

Can businesses learn something from this effort, one of many produced by the Ad Council to educate Americans on various issues? Shane thinks so. Firms can copy the government's actions by developing an emergency plan to promote employee safety, save lives, protect property, provide facility security and ensure business continuity.

Business owners and managers, like citizens, need to understand that by planning ahead, they can minimize the effect a disaster will have on business, Shane said.

“The fact is that 30 percent to 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after disasters strike,” she said. “By backing up operational capabilities and developing a plan to protect both employees and property, much can be done to ensure business continuity.”

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