Campus: San Diego State University -- July 13, 2005
Homeland Security 101: A Sense of Humor is Key to Success of
Disaster Readiness Project for College Students
A sense of humor is a key ingredient of a pilot "Cover Your Assets!" disaster
readiness project for college students that organizers hope becomes a model for
San Diego State University is the testing ground for the demonstration project
that mixed light-hearted jabs at duct tape, shrink wrap and color-coded terrorism
alerts with serious advice and a practical new way to stay prepared.
"Don't leave home without it," advises a six-minute video produced by San Diego
State students about an informational "cover your assets" handout that folds up
into the size and shape of a credit card. The handout stores emergency contact
numbers and other information.
"We had to be politically correct and say 'assets,' but it's catchy and students
respond," said Karen Garman, an adjunct faculty member at San Diego State and
president of the consulting firm HELP Inc. (for Healthcare, Education, Leadership
Garman was project director with San Diego State's College of Health and Human
Services for the disaster preparedness demonstration project. The project was
funded by the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency via monies
provided to California agencies from the federal Department of Homeland Security
to address disaster and bioterrorism preparedness.
Cell phones don't always work in a disaster, and for the cell phone generation,
that means emergency telephone numbers need to be stored the old-fashioned way,
on the fold-up form. The form also comes with emergency numbers, sections to fill
in the blanks with personal information and instructions on how to put together
a portable emergency kit.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the project's goal was to
move beyond efforts to secure campus buildings to focus on the safety of the
students who use them. "They're a high risk group who are probably going to be
away from home when something happens, commuting from campus or living on campus,"
Hence, the focus on what would prove portable when researchers met with student
groups at San Diego State and nearby Grossmont Community College. San Diego County
alone is home to some 30 college campuses and an estimated 200,000 college
How to address emergency preparedness also had to take into account the unique
attitudes of the students. "The terrorist attack happened four years ago, and for
someone who is 18 or 19 now, it was a part of their childhood. Us old folks say,
boy has the world changed, and they are saying, this is the world," Garman said.
"When we asked the students to put something together, they were making light of
it because of all the hype, but knowing at the same time how serious this is. It's
a part of their lives now," she said. San Diego State communications students Kim
Gerhardt and Ashley Borden produced the video, with Gerhardt writing the script
and Borden starring in the video.
Following advisory group meetings last year and votes by student focus groups for
a "cover your assets" logo, 5,000 cards were distributed to students at the San
Diego State campus this spring. The high success rate led to the decision to
distribute another 3,000 cards to incoming freshmen at San Diego State in August.
Organizers learned early that simply having students hand cards to their peers was
not as effective on campuses where students can be inundated with handouts on
their way to classes. "If somebody hands you a card on campus, you pretty much
think they're selling something," Garman said.
The project's best successes came with showing the video in classrooms and in
student residence halls before handing out the cards. "We wanted to say to other
colleges, here are three different models and here's what was successful," Garman
Interestingly, while research shows that females and males tend to respond
differently by participation rates in certain projects, the response for this
effort was the same from male and female college students. "In this generation,
there's no gender difference when it comes to disaster preparedness," Garman
"We feel it was a success on many levels. Students can influence their families,
because it generates another level of conversation," Garman said. "Students who
participated felt they adding to the overall benefit of the community, and in
knowing that if one person knows what to do should anything happen, it's well
worth the effort." And, she added, "it really was a fun project."
Editor's Note: A copy of the six-minute video on DVD is available by contacting
San Diego State Media Relations at (619) 594-4298.
Contact: Renee Haines, SDSU Marketing & Communications,
(619) 594-4298, firstname.lastname@example.org