Author(s): Lorraine Carli. Published on January 2, 2019.

Changing with the Times

A recent fire prevention week success underscores the need for communicating safety messages in digital environments

A couple of months ago, I read an article in the Boston Globe about a business called The Watch Hospital that closed recently after 70 years of repairing and servicing wristwatches. In its heyday, in the eighties and nineties, lines stretched out the door as six watch repairers and 10 counter employees worked to keep up with demand, the Globe reported. How times have changed. Customers disappeared, rents went up, and The Watch Hospital owners called it quits.

It wasn’t all that surprising. When was the last time you needed a new watch battery? Do you even wear a traditional timepiece anymore? Today, most of us get the time by looking at our phones, asking Alexa, or glancing at some other type of multifunctional device or smart watch strapped to our wrist. It’s another example of how the ways people get their information are changing, even if it’s something as simple as the time.

It also applies to how people get information about staying safe from fire and other hazards. The ever-changing information landscape means that all of us who work hard to share lifesaving messages need to change, too.

This past Fire Prevention Week (FPW) is a good example of how NFPA is doing just that. While NFPA employed its traditional efforts to arm fire departments, schools, and other safety organizations with messages and resources, we also launched a new influencer campaign that targeted young adults, an audience that’s been hard to reach through traditional FPW activities. Influencers—social media personalities with considerable credibility and large audiences—worked with NFPA to develop fire safety messages about cooking and candles that resonated with their followers. These messages were delivered to their followers as part of their usual content. For instance, a cooking blogger might interject some basic cooking safety messages into a blog or recipe, or an interior designer writing about home décor might also include a short message on candle safety.

During October, more than 40 influencers worked with NFPA to create more than 150 pieces of content, which generated more than 19 million impressions and 41,000 social media and blog engagements. These numbers greatly exceeded our expectations and were a valuable trial for future efforts to reach different audiences in new places.

Through our own social media channels, we also created a series of short videos featuring a new character named Simon to further FPW messages beyond young grade schoolers, and these were shared thousands of times. We also continue to promote a number of Sparky apps for children, tools that teach safety in a fun and entertaining way on tablets and phones, the go-to devices for children of all ages and increasingly the tools parents use to entertain their children.

Our most popular digital game, “Sparky’s Firehouse,” has been downloaded more than 310,000 times and is NFPA’s top downloaded app. “Sparky’s Birthday Surprise” and “Sparky and the Missing Smoke Alarm” have each been downloaded about 200,000 times. These and other Sparky apps can be accessed online.

While we anticipate children will still hear safety messages in schools and the fire service will continue to be a strong source for safety education in their communities, there is a critical need to reach people where they are—in digital environments. There is also a critical opportunity to figure out how to leverage smart technology to impart safety learning and knowledge.

So the next time you glance down at the device that replaced your wristwatch, let it be a reminder to public education professionals that the old ways of getting messages out are rapidly changing. To be effective, we need to change, too.

LORRAINE CARLI is vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. Top Illustration: Michael Hoeweler