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Ads may put fear of storms in you

This year, the state’s hurricane awareness campaign is out to scare Floridians into preparing.

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published May 25, 2006


TALLAHASSEE — It starts with a simple sentence slicing through a black screen: “These people were ordered to evacuate but didn’t.”

Then shaky, breaking voices from coastal Escambia County squeak pleas to 911 operators who can do nothing but listen.

”Water is all over the house. The roof has completely caved in on us. We need emergency assistance.”

“I’m in a wheelchair and water’s coming in.”

”The roof is coming in all over, we’re going to die in this house if we don’t get some help.”

The Florida Division of Emergency Management has taken a new tack in its latest round of public service announcements, expected to start airing on television and radio as early as today: They’re out to scare Floridians into heeding orders to get out of Dodge.

“We decided to take the gloves off this year, we’re not going to be touchy-feely,” said Craig Fugate who heads the state emergency management agency, which contracted with the Florida Association of Broadcasters to produce the public service announcements. “We have a lot of people who live right near the water, and far too many of them want to wait for the next forecast before evacuating. And then it gets too late, and they want to be saved.”

The state used $2.2-million in money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to launch the new hurricane preparation public awareness campaign, which includes one ad featuring real 911 calls from 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. Several radio spots also were produced, including one with the 911 calls.

The FEMA money also helped pay for a survey of Floridian’s attitudes about hurricane preparations, and a revamping of the state emergency management Web site, www.floridadisaster.org.

Fugate and Gov. Jeb Bush wanted to target the many Floridians who, even after witnessing two years of destructive hurricanes, still don’t take seriously preparation or evacuation. The state has been doing such campaigns for years, but this year’s “Get a plan” program is unique because of the new ingredient: fear.

The ominous tone of some of the ads was crafted in response to a study by Florida State University associate professor Jay Baker, who analyzes evacuation patterns. Baker found that while more Floridians are better prepared than they were several years ago, many coastal residents wrongly believe their homes would be safe during hurricanes.

In interviews with residents who live along the west coast of Florida, from Citrus to Collier counties, only 32 percent of people who lived within a Category 3 hurricane strike zone area — which roughly translates into local evacuation zones A, B and C — said that they believed their home would experience storm surge flooding in a Category 3 hurricane. Only about 64 percent believed they would be ordered to evacuate even though they all would, Baker said.

“A substantial number of people think hurricanes are not as dangerous as they are,” Baker said. “People need to be afraid.”

Baker also looked into the reasons people don’t better prepare or evacuate, and found that education, age and income play a role. The northwest part of the state including the Panhandle is the most prepared, probably due to experience, at about 69 percent. Noncoastal areas are the least prepared at about 59 percent.

The first six public service announcements, which will appear in Spanish and English, show scenes from past hurricanes: wind-torn palm trees, collapsed homes, crumpled railroad tracks and the torn down Interstate 10 bridge in Pensacola. One spot also shows long lines of hot, perturbed people waiting for food and ice, while urging residents to stock up with 72 hours worth of supplies. Another ad focuses on pets, and another is a cartoon.

But the buzz was about the one TV spot that features 911 calls from Escambia. Even some federal government officials in Washington who work with the National Hurricane Center in Miami had heard about it.

“Can you imagine being the person on the other end of that call, knowing you can’t do anything until the storm passes?” Fugate said. “If they had just moved inland 5 to 10 miles.”

Tampa producer Michael Babich of Tradewinds Video Inc. made the spots. He said he was told to reach out to those who are least prepared.

“They’re pretty dark, and that’s by design, but sometimes you have to yell a little louder to get people’s attention,” Babich said.

The Florida Association of Broadcasters believes the 911 spot will be the most effective in swaying public opinion.

“It’s the one spot that gets everyone,” said Patrick Roberts, president and chief executive of the Florida Association of Broadcasters, which has been producing the public service announcements for years, but never like this. “Hopefully, it’s a wake-up call.’’

The public service announcements will air randomly throughout the summer, whenever television stations have a slot of unsold commercial space. While the broadcast association contracts with the state every year to produce hurricane awareness public service announcements, this year more money went into the project because the state qualified for a FEMA grant as a result of the recent hurricanes.

The broadcast association has to guarantee at least $750,000 worth of advertising, which ends up serving as the state’s match to the $2.2-million in federal dollars for the public awareness campaign.

[Last modified May 25, 2006, 22:51:23]


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