What If? Colorado” Promotes Emergency Preparedness through Non-traditional Public Information Campaign

Campaign generates buzz through reality competition, online program and statewide partnerships

DENVER (November 1, 2007) – It’s no secret that public awareness campaigns initiated by government agencies have a reputation for being a bit stale and predictable. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently took a fresh, unexpected approach to informing the public about two important issues: emergency preparedness and pandemic influenza. As a result, its statewide campaign, titled What If? Colorado, utilized the Internet and the popular reality TV format to get these messages out. The website is still active today and continues to receive numerous site visits.

Prior to the campaign’s launch in July 2007, surveys in Colorado and nationally demonstrated that most citizens have not created an emergency preparedness kit for their homes. A survey in June 2007 of nearly 1,000 Colorado residents over the age of 18 showed that: 73 percent of respondents said they did not possess an emergency preparedness kit. Yet, 66 percent of respondents believed they were prepared for an emergency lasting three days – and 56 percent believed they were prepared for an extended two-week emergency Finally, 57 percent of Coloradans believed it is “somewhat” or “very” likely that they will face an emergency in the next three years.

“We knew it would take an integrated communication approach to get the message out to help initiate behavior change. So far, the What If? Colorado campaign has met our expectations, blanketing the state with messages about the importance of emergency preparedness,” said Chris Lindley, director for the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “Entertainment media can not only raise awareness and increase knowledge, but really engage people and motivate them to adopt positive behaviors.”

What If? Colorado set out to ask Coloradans to consider how well they are prepared for a sudden emergency, such as a severe snowstorm or power outage, as well as more long-term emergencies such as an outbreak of pandemic influenza. In addition, the campaign prescribes specific actions residents can take to better prepare themselves for such inevitable conditions. Components of the campaign have included:

Reality Competition
Entertainment media can not only raise awareness and increase knowledge, but it can engage people and motivate them to adopt positive behaviors. Therefore, Colorado residents over the age of 18 were encouraged to submit video “auditions” for the What If? Colorado reality competition throughout the summer. In September, 32 semifinalists were chosen and posted on the What If? Web site, and the public was encouraged to vote for their favorite nine finalists from throughout Colorado. More than 2,500 votes were cast, with nine finalists chosen to live together at The Gregory Inn in Downtown Denver from Sept. 20 – 23.

The contestants faced a variety of challenges designed to inform them – and therefore the rest of Colorado – about a multitude of emergency preparedness and influenza issues. During the competition, contestants faced an array of disaster-related challenges, including the “Glo Germ” challenge, which taught contestants how silently, quickly and unnoticeably germs can spread; the “Grocery Grab” challenge, which taught contestants about the necessary items for an emergency preparedness kit; and the “Dunk Tank” challenge, which tested contestants’ knowledge about a variety of emergency preparedness and influenza issues.

Footage from the three-day competition was provided daily to TV stations in Denver, Colorado Springs and Grand Junction and aired on paid media partners’ newscasts, as well as on other stations. Episodes highlighting the competition can be found online at www.WhatIfColorado.com. To date, the episodes have been viewed more than 14,000 times, while the estimated media reach of the overall campaign to date is 45 million impressions (online, paid and earned media).

James Amos, an editor at the Pueblo Chieftain and father of two, was crowned the winner of the competition based on overall points earned during the weekend challenges. Amos received a cash grand prize of $2,500 through a generous donation from HealthONE. Each of the contestants received an Apple 30 gigabyte iPod, a gift certificate from local grocer King Soopers/City Market and a 72-hour emergency preparedness kit.

Additionally, the contestants selected Bob Morrow of Walsh, Colorado, the Best Team Player, earning him a night’s stay at The Gregory Inn and tickets to a major sporting event in Denver later this year.

“Today, reality TV shows present a unique opportunity to showcase real people demonstrating specific actions that people can take to protect themselves in the event of an emergency – and invites viewers to share in the range of emotions that arise during an emergency, without actually having to experience it themselves,” said Lindley. “Given the popularity of reality TV, we hope the What If? Colorado house will continue to spark conversations about emergency preparedness among people of all ages.”

Online Program
The What If? Colorado campaign includes an online tool for people to calculate the quantities of food, water and other items needed for their emergency kits. The Web site also was used for video entries for the reality competition, as well as the voting for finalists for the reality competition. Videos entries were hosted through YouTube.com, exposing yet another online audience to the key messages of the campaign in an entertaining manner. The site was revamped after the reality competition to focus on influenza, with information on where to get influenza vaccinations as well as educational messages about the differences between pandemic and seasonal influenza.

Through a statewide partnership with King Soopers/City Market, the stores used July sales circulars, in-store advertising and weekly point-of-purchase displays to promote purchase of emergency kits items. Eldorado Natural Spring Water also teamed up with What If? Colorado by providing specially branded bottles of water that were distributed free of charge throughout the state by local public health agencies at community events. In addition, paid public service announcements were televised at times during August through November with KCNC-TV Ch. 4 (CBS) in Denver, KOAA-TV Ch. 5/30 (NBC) in Colorado Springs, and KKCO-TV Ch. 11 (NBC) in Grand Junction.

Hispanic Outreach
As part of the campaign marketing efforts to reach the Hispanic population, collateral and media materials were translated into Spanish, the toll-free Colorado Help line provided information in Spanish, several bi-lingual local public health agency representatives attended multi-cultural events throughout the summer to promote the program and Spanish Public Service Announcements were aired in October on four Colorado Hispanic radio stations to promote the importance of receiving a seasonal influenza vaccination.

November Mass Vaccination Exercise
In the largest public health exercise in Colorado to date, the state will test its ability to mobilize and conduct mass immunizations in the event of a pandemic influenza outbreak. The What If? Campaign is helping to promote the Emergency Preparedness and Response Division’s statewide “mass vaccination” exercise on November 17, 2007. In such a circumstance there could be a need to distribute and dispense vaccine to a large portion of the state’s population – in a short amount of time. This exercise is designed to test the capabilities of the state and local public health partners to do just that. Colorado Governor Ritter is scheduled to attend a Denver-area exercise site on the morning of November 17. Approximately 20,000 doses of influenza vaccine ware purchased by CDPHE and local health departments for use during this exercise. All exercise activities will be evaluated to improve future planning and preparedness efforts.

About the “What If? Colorado” Campaign
The Emergency Preparedness and Response Division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment developed its statewide campaign “What If? Colorado” to inform residents about emergency preparedness and pandemic influenza, to increase the number of Coloradans who receive influenza vaccinations, and to increase the number of residents who assemble emergency preparedness kits for their homes. The What If? Colorado campaign was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For further information, please visit www.WhatIfColorado.com or call the toll free Colorado Help Line: 1-877-462-2911.