Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

First, Get Their Attention

fire prevention and safety 


Keeping fire-safety and emergency plans fresh in the minds of staff and students on campus is always a challenge. Colleges and universities are in need of continually refining their messages to campus occupants in order to educate them to take personal responsibility for fire safety and emergency management. The strategies, messages and content used even five years ago to promote fire safety are no longer a viable method to reach out to students and staff. A one-message-fits-all-users approach certainly won’t have success on campus today. Today’s great fire and emergency-planning educational messages may have as many as five different methodologies, based on the age of the target audience and the skill set or actions individuals are expected to use to prevent or respond to a fire or other emergency. A decade ago there was never a discussion about taking one safety message and developing five different delivery strategies.

Know Your Audience

Creating fresh fire-safety messages that have impact on people requires an understanding of how different generations receive and process information. Campaigns about campus safety plans will be successful when these differences are acknowledged and packaged into a format that is in line with the recipient in mind. Members of each of the five generations (Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y and Generation Z) have their own set of learning and messaging characteristics. Each generation has a preferred medium of communication. The fundamentals of each medium must be understood when creating fresh message strategies to inform and remind students and staff about fire-safety and emergency preparedness.

Traditionalists prefer face-to-face communication. Meetings and formal, typed letters are their communication style preferences. Traditionalists make decisions based upon what has worked well in the past. Generation Y is characterized by diverse backgrounds, team players, multi-taskers and need for immediate gratification. They are impatient and depend on thrill and speed. They value fun, saving the world and rapid information. Gen-Yers’ communication preferences are texting, online social networks, e-mail for school and work projects and instant messaging. They struggle with face-to-face communications and letter writing. As you can see from just these two groups, a letter or memo can be written and sent out to Traditionalists, reminding them of fire-safety and emergency plans, and it will be well received. That same letter sent to Generation Y students will not be read; it will be recycled instantly. Creating a Twitter message and texting it out to Generation Y students, or even including an action-packed image, will have great success (while having little success with Traditionalists).

To better understand how to keep fire-safety plans in the minds of students and staff, let’s look at what messages a public education campaign to reduce cooking fires in microwaves might use. Risk Assessment/Identification Fire-safety messages are created based upon an assessment of risks on campus. The assessment produces objective information related to the target audience — who are, in this case, the people involved with microwave fires, where are the fires occurring (break rooms, commercial kitchens, student housing kitchens) time of day for each fire, time of year (early in the semester, during finals week). The assessment will identify need — when do you need to provide cooking fire prevention messages and training to specific groups on campus?

Develop the Message

Once the risk and audience are identified, create a planning team that consists of subject matter experts and stakeholders. Stakeholders must include the target audience. If the goal is to reach Generation Y students, include them on the team. If the target audience is from the Traditionalist generation, include representatives from that group.

The planning team will create messages that reinforce safe practices or change a behavior related to cooking fires. To guide the creation of new messages to reduce cooking fires the messages must meet six requirements:

  1. The individual must be aware of the risk. The target audience won’t take preventive actions unless they understand a risk exists.
  2. The person must believe he or she is at risk. Messages must clearly show that the recipient’s safety is compromised when he or she (or others) engages in unsafe behaviors.
  3. The person must believe the risk is unacceptable. Preventive measures are more likely to occur if a person has a sense of urgency to take action.
  4. The person must understand how the risk develops and occurs. Take time to educate the audience about the specific risk.
  5. The person must understand how actions can reduce the risk. The message must deliver information that motivates the individual to eliminate the risk. Behavior change, enforcement actions and incentives can motivate individuals to take action.
  6. The person must believe the cost associated with the behavior change is worth it to reduce the risk. There must be motivation to change.

As the planning team creates each fresh fire-safety message, a control team should be given the assignment to review each new message to ensure it meets one or more of these six elements.

Once new messages are created, take time to train your training and education team that will be involved in delivering the messages. Inadequately trained teams won’t be able to effectively convey knowledge and information to the audience. A social media campaign that results in calls for follow-up won’t be as effective if team members taking calls are not well prepared to answer questions and provide instruction consistent with the initial message.


An overlooked strategy when creating fresh messages involves evaluating current messages and their effectiveness. Conduct a review of the messages you are currently using — if they are effectively changing behavior or the risk they are targeting has been reduced, they may be very effective and not require freshening up. It is also important to measure the effectiveness of all new messages you send to students and staff. Proper evaluation of the message campaign will show whether the objectives of the message have been achieved.

There are many different ways to evaluate effectiveness. Requests for training, open rates of email and reduction of incidents rates are just three examples. Determine what evaluation model is best for your messaging program — a basic evaluation or very in-depth evaluation — and then use a beta group to send message and evaluate feedback. Look for reactions to your safety messages. Does the target group change an attitude? Did the target group learn a new skill or understand the risky behavior and why it can’t continue?

Once you evaluate and determine how well the message is received by the target group, you are ready to send the fresh message out to the larger target audience.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.