June 30, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
To promote emergency preparedness information, in Texas, the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) purchased advertising on electronic billboards throughout the county. The OEM promotes information like the days remaining in hurricane season and Web sites residents can visit for emergency planning information, like Ready.gov.
"We live in an advancing technology society, and we thought we had to go the extra step to get people's attention," said Greg Fountain, emergency management coordinator of the OEM. "They get tired of just listening to you on the radio or the news. Print materials are just something that people are handed and throw away, or they rarely pick up a brochure like you would hope."
Fountain said Lamar Advertising has three electronic billboards in the county and the OEM purchased time on each of them. He said the company sells six ads for each billboard, and each message appears for 10 seconds of every minute. One of the billboards is located at the intersection of Highway 347 and Highway 69 -- a location that nearly all of the county's more than 250,000 residents drive through, he said.
According to Fountain, Jefferson County spent $15,000 to advertise on the electronic billboards for six months. He said the OEM received a discounted rate, and two of the billboards didn't sell all of their slots so Lamar Advertising filled in the remaining ads with the OEM's at no additional cost.
To change the billboards' messages, an OEM representative must call his or her Lamar Advertising contact. However, Fountain said the company representative can change the message quickly, which allows for disaster information to be broadcast in near real time.
He also said future messages will include information about the county's local emergency planning committee, how to shelter in place and what to do following a man-made incident.
"Some people have asked, 'Why don't you use your own Web site?'" Fountain said. "Why reinvent the wheel? Ready.gov is the wheel; that's where everybody can go, and people driving down the road can remember Ready.gov. But to tell them to go to co.jefferson.tx.us/em -- they're not going to remember that."
He added that emergency managers need to think outside the box when it comes to educating the public. Fountain said Lamar Advertising told him this was the first time it had been approached to display information like this, but that it was very receptive to the idea.
Photo courtesy of the Jefferson County, Texas, Office of Emergency Management