By Michelle Wang and James Fitzpatrick
In high-risk situations, people can experience high levels of stress and fear, which has potentially adverse effects on adaptive risk perception, decision-making and attention needed to implement plans (Reser & Morrissey 2009). It can lead to overlooked threats, longer response times for physical tasks, and a greater number of mistakes.
A person who is mentally prepared for crisis can have a general understanding of how an emergency situation might look like as well as the associated risks, helping them anticipate required coping mechanisms and ward off negative thought patterns. They also tend to be more willing to plan and prepare for crisis situations.
While physical preparedness is relatively easily understood and conveyed, mental preparedness is harder to communicate. It involves the anticipation of the physical and sensory stressors of a natural disaster.
Drills, plans and procedures exist to physically prepare people for crisis – but how do you convey the importance of mental preparation to your key stakeholders?
According to the research conducted by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience, various factors influence the reception of mental preparedness training and information.
Terminology, language, and trustworthiness
The language and terminology used in information collateral influences how easily the importance of mental preparedness is understood.
The term ‘psychological preparedness’ is currently the most widely-used term to describe a person’s capacity to anticipate and manage stress during stages of disaster warning and time of impact. However, research has found that the term is seen as too ‘clinical’, and using every-day words such as ‘emotional preparedness’ makes it easier to understand.
The language used also influences the trustworthiness of the information in combination with the people and/or organisation providing the information. A fact sheet from the Australian Psychological Society can be seen as untrustworthy due to the clinical language used, while the Red Cross is potentially perceived as experienced in working alongside the community ‘on ground level’ and thus more trustworthy.
Using audiovisual material through channels such as social media can engage more people in being emotionally and mentally ready for crisis situations. An emotional response to collateral will help viewers retain the information conveyed, and audiovisual examples of ‘real stories and events’ plays a part in helping viewers ‘feel’ what might happen to them in a similar situation without having lived through the crisis itself.
Printed material such as brochures and flyers also need to be simple, integrating relevant imagery whilst increasing font size. This increases the likelihood that people engage with the issue of being mentally prepared for crisis.
The full findings from the AIDR research are available here.