The items in this toolkit provide many of the essential materials needed to begin communicating with a variety of different audiences about levee status and map changes in your area. The following tips will help ensure that your overall approach to community outreach is on target. Keep these tips in mind while using the toolkit materials to make communications around levee and map changes in your area a smooth - and successful - process. You should also consult the outreach timeline included in this kit for more information about suggested timing for various outreach activities.
- Start early - these things take time. Outreach activities should begin several months prior to the release of preliminary flood maps or large Letter of Map Revisions (LOMRs) that promise to include changes to area flood zones and levee status. This time frame allows for ample discovery; message creation, testing and refinement; and partnership development among key stakeholder groups. Getting started on outreach efforts as early as possible will allow you to identify and address key issues and obstacles and secure the broad-based support needed prior to the rollout of new maps.
- The media will tell the tale - engage them. Local and regional media outlets will have an interest in this issue and will want to know how map and levee changes will affect the average citizen. They will also be the first to applaud, or critique, the way the process is being handled. Providing the press with access and giving them good information in advance of the release of new maps will help ensure that they have a solid understanding of the process. Holding media prebriefings and making presentations to newspaper editorial boards prior to the release of new maps will allow reporters and editors to delve into key issues and ask important questions that will help them to cover the map release completely and accurately.
- Representatives from affected industries can carry your messages forward - tap into their input and influence. Representatives of the insurance, real estate and lending industries will all be affected by the changes that new maps bring. They are also keenly aware of the messages and outreach approaches that will resonate with, and make a difference to, their colleagues and clients. Keeping them updated about key developments in the map change and levee review process, getting their feedback on outreach materials and using them to disseminate information to their colleagues are all great ways to help ensure that the right messages reach the groups who need them most. Consider forming, and regularly convening, a stakeholder advisory group that includes representatives of key industries to react to, refine, distribute and deliver key messages and materials.
- Residents and business owners need clear messages about flood risks - as well as cost-saving options for protection. Individuals who have investments to protect need meaningful information about how risky it can be to take chances when it comes to flooding, especially if they live or work near a levee. After all, no levee provides full protection from flooding. They also need to know that flood insurance can be quite affordable, especially when compared to the financial burden of repairs or rebuilding if a flood strikes. Providing the public with messages and materials that stress both risks and available cost-saving flood insurance options will make the flood insurance requirement more palatable.
- Influencing behavior requires frequency, not just reach - make sure you communicate often with all audiences. Whether asking stakeholders to help explain changes and advocate for protection or asking residents to make a new purchase, it is important to provide good information, address misconceptions and answer tough questions. Such open, transparent and repeated communication is the only way to build consensus and garner buy-in. Holding open houses or town hall meetings with the public gives residents and business owners an opportunity to raise issues and concerns in a friendly, educational setting. It also gives you an opportunity to proactively provide answers and assurances. Similarly, convening regular stakeholder advisory group meetings allow you to update and recruit new partners and discuss messages and materials that ensure outreach is robust, organized and effective.
- Key decision makers make key decisions - make sure they're on board! Local elected officials and county board members will, ultimately, be responsible for adopting ordinances that make new flood maps official and effective throughout the area. They are also often the first to hear complaints from confused and concerned residents. Their ability to communicate key map change messages and foster a better understanding of the options available to residents and businesses will help diffuse many potential problems. So, make sure key officials clearly understand the map change process, insurance implications and overall project benefits. If they recognize new maps as a positive step toward increased public safety, it will go a long way toward ensuring that new maps are received positively.