“The first wave came ashore and hit our restaurant without any warning and rushing water was inside everywhere,” said hotel bartender Ton (first name only) in Phuket last week. He moved to Patong City, Thailand, just prior to the tsunami strike December 26, 2004 that killed 300 in this small beach town on the Andaman Sea. Eight-thousand were killed in six different coastal provinces of Thailand because of massive flooding. The worst hit was Bande Aceh, Indonesia, where a staggering 167,000 died.
“It was a normal sunny day. Then there were three giant waves that came ashore that day, each one just three minutes apart. First, we rushed everyone to a higher level, but after that second wave, we had to move everyone again to the third floor of the hotel. Some people went running for their hotels. They didn’t make it.”
Ton’s biggest surprise was that Japanese tourists in Patong had already been alerted hours before by their government about the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami warning. “Most of Japanese tourists left and were safe. But the Thai government didn’t tell the Thai people.”
Today, there is an early warning system in place for Tsunami warnings, with offshore buoy wave detectors and an emergency text message to residents via their cell phone. Yet, not all the hotel staff I spoke to were aware of this, and oddly there is no special education to hotel guests (tourists) about what to do in a tsunami. It took Thailand 8 years since the major disaster to develop their system, but now it is considered the best in Southeast Asia.
From news reports, Mr. Somsak from the Thailand warning centre admitted the system could not save lives and damage without public cooperation. “If they do not run away from the big waves, no one can help them,” he said. “The only thing that can save you from a huge wave is running away to higher ground as fast as you can. Don’t stop and waste your time taking a photo of the big wave. It will kill you,” Somsak said.
To be clear, earthquakes are not caused by climate change, but there is a link to consider between flooding from tsunamis and hurricanes or typhoons.
According to the OECD Thailand is mainly affected by the climate change, such as a small rise in sea level could already have a major impact on Thailand’s vulnerability against tsunamis and also floods.
EnviroMedia has developed award-winning education campaigns about emergency preparedness. As extreme weather events increase in frequency, we anticipate need for even more education and planning in almost every country.
Fifteen years ago, you were probably marveling that “The Simpsons” had just become the longest running animated show on TV and surely couldn’t last much longer. On February 10, 1997, we started a two-person PR company with the idea that we’d make a living doing good. It worked, and today we are a full-service, national marketing company promoting carsharing, preventing litter, helping smokers stop, conserving water and changing the way people eat — just to name a few ways we live up to our mission of changing people’s behavior to benefit their health and the environment.
We will celebrate at the end of this month in New York City, where PRWeek magazine is honoring EnviroMedia as an Agency of the Year finalist. Judges chose EnviroMedia because of four consecutive years of fiscal growth, our long-term client relationships, the work we do for those clients, and the EnviroMedia culture that includes a personal trainer, paid sabbaticals, volunteerism and seriously good karma.
The PRWeek honor is a huge industry recognition, but we also recently received accolades from a group dedicated to the same thing EnviroMedia is — helping people live healthier lives in healthier communities. The National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC) gave its Gold Award to the Surviving Disaster video series EnviroMedia produced for the Texas Department of State Health Services, along with a Gold Award for a health-care provider tobacco cessation online training, a Silver Award for the Rhythm Smoker radio ad and a Bronze Award for the “Yes You Can” billboard series.
Without the hard work of our current and former EnviroMedians, we wouldn’t be in business today. We look forward to 15 more years, and we’re glad EnviroMedia now has a staff of 60 in Austin and Portland to help us do well by doing good.
Kevin Tuerff and Valerie Davis
EnviroMedia Social Marketing
At EnviroMedia, we’re fortunate to meet a lot of people with great stories as we work to improve public health and the environment. With the help of our staff, I’ve compiled a top 10 list for 2008 of our best ‘make-a-difference’ moments.
10. Helping E. Texas school kids post-hurricane Ike
Four of the elementary schools in Beaumont ravaged by the hurricane received a fun, interactive tobacco prevention outreach program from the cartoon DUCK mascot, courtesy of the Texas Education Agency. One of the school counselors tearfully expressed her thanks and said “No-one does anything for these kids. Thank you for coming.”
9. Climate Change Diplomacy with Brazil while lost on a train in Poland
A few weeks ago, four EnviroMedians (author included) thought they were starting their journey from Poznan, Poland back to Austin. They were leaving a successful UN Climate Change Conference, boarding a direct train for Berlin, Germany. Or so we thought. Turns out we boarded was headed 200 miles in the wrong direction, northwest to the Polish-Germany border.
Another UN delegate named Milton Noguiera, from Brazil, made the same mistake we did. He saved us by helping us figure out how to catch a 1.5 hour shuttle from the Polish border to our intended destination.
While riding the train through Poland, Milton shared his opinions on what Brazilians thought about America and our reluctance to fight climate change. We spoke about Brazil’s success of using sugarcane ethanol to fuel 90 percent of their vehicles, and also their country’s terrible problem of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. He asked us about American politics and the strength of environmental groups here.
8. Tackling Dipping and Racism in West Texas
We saw lots of young men throwing their cans of Skoal into the trash, in order to receive a free “Spit-It-Out” hat at the Future Farmers of America convention in Lubbock. This is the newest tobacco prevention campaign for the Texas Department of State Health Services. Everyone loves the new hard-hitting jackelope TV ad we produced.
A young, white teen from San Angelo had his horizons broadened by interacting with our staff/talent emcee, Terrell, who is African-American, “Mr. Terrell, I always heard black people were cool, but I never knew it was true until I met you!”
7. Empowering Gulf Coast Families post-Katrina and pre-Ike
The State’s “Ready or Not?” campaign seemed to give people an outlet to talk about their emergency preparedness experiences. Our ad campaign and helpful Web site drew lots of people to our outreach events at dozens of Wal-Mart and H-E-B stores across the state. Many people shared stories of 2005 Hurricane Katrina evacuations, house fires, heart attacks, etc. This campaign empowered thousands of people to be prepared when Hurricane Ike crisis hit the Galveston area earlier this year.
6. Fewer Deaths Among Lake Travis Partiers
Our crew of trained lifeguards heard lots of, “Throw me a t-shirt!” when they visited Devil’s Cove on Lake Travis this summer. Not until they answered some trivia questions about water safety. This year, we added outreach to Spanish-speaking visitors. LCRA’s “Nobody’s Waterproof” campaign continues to help reduce the number of drowning deaths on the state’s most deadliest lake.
5. Litter Force K-900 Mascot Dog-napped in Houston
On April 5, our Don’t Mess with Texas road tour crew went out to their van parked in a Houston hotel parking lot, only to find it was vandalized. Even worse: K-900, the kids’ favorite mascot of the Litter Force, was stolen! Our media relations team quickly turned lemons into lemonade, getting the full story about the new elementary school litter prevention program on almost every TV station in Houston (which is a huge coup). The culprit was never caught (had to be the “Evil Trash”) but that publicity led to greater awareness of the problem and the new Texas Department of Transportation program.
4. Drought Reinforces Importance of Water Conservation
“I saw your ads, and now I know my water comes from Lake Lavon,” one man told our outreach team at a Lowe’s store in Plano. Our team convinced him to buy drought-tolerant plants, and to check his sprinler system for leaks. Thanks to some trendy new Water IQ give-a-ways, we’ve helped make conserving water the cool thing to do in many parts of Texas.
Central Texas faced a year-long extreme drought. Through years of bridge-building between local governments, we convinced the Lower Colorado River Authority, city of Austin and city of Cedar Park to collaborate on the Water IQ campaign. This year, they promoted new, consistent lawn watering rules for the region.
3. West Coast Expansion: New Office in Portland, Oregon
After meeting with dozens of business, government and environmental leaders, we determined there was a great need for our social marketing services out West. We chose Portland, Oregon to mine for new business opportunities. We were so impressed with the work of the Oregon Environmental Council, we made a sizable donation to the non-profit group. After just seven weeks, our initial prospecting paid off, winning two competitive contracts, one promoting alternative fuels for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and another promoting healthy food choices to food stamp recipients through the Oregon State University’s Extension Service.
2. Reducing Greenhouse Gases, One Home at a Time
Thanks to a huge wave of awareness about climate change, and some unique advertising strategies, our clients at Green Mountain Energy announced they had a 70 percent increase in sales of renewable power in 2007. We also helped them expand to South Texas by producing their first-ever ads targeted to Spanish-speaking Texans.
In 2007 these facilities generated more than 319,000 MWh of new renewable energy. All of these facilities together have been responsible for avoiding the use of more than 530,000 tons of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Green Mountain Energy should also be commended for top honors for its customer satisfaction rating in a survey of electricity competitors by J.D. Power & Associates.
1. Fighting HIV with Family Portraits
A mother of 7 was able to get a family portrait for the first time ever. She’s never been able to afford it before. Thanks to “Fight HIV”, a DSHS outreach event at Kwaanza Fest in Dallas, it was free.
2008 Was our Best Year at EnviroMedia
Working with the University of Oregon, giving birth to the Greenwashing Index (www.greenwashingindex.com) was risky last January, but it was well worth it: Together we catapulted our national reputation through news stories in TIME and Newsweek magazines, on NBC’s TODAY Show and dozens of other media outlets.
We also gave birth this year to a new subsidiary company, Green Canary Sustainability Consulting. We have great hopes for consulting with new corporate clients to help them get their green house in order and improve their own sustainability efforts before they could even greenwash.
We once again saw the excitement that makes EnviroMedia special. We headed off to Poznań, Poland as delegates at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, establishing new business contacts, blogging for multiple media outlets and enhancing our credibility as one of a handful of U.S. business leaders in attendance. We represented the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development.
WALKING THE TALK
Our staff did all of this amazing work, while picking up hundreds of pounds of litter on three roadside locations in Travis and Hays counties, six times throughout the year, organizing a building-wide e-waste recycling collection on America Recycles Day, distributing thousands of dollars in cash to strangers for the seventh annual Pay It Forward 9/11, and delivering 750 warm lunches to seniors through Meals on Wheels.
Yes, all of this, doing good for the world, while having the best financial year in our 12-year company history. We are all truly blessed with great clients and great staff.
He was lost in Austin, separated from his sick wife, who was somewhere in a hospital in Louisiana. The elderly married couple had been separated during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath in New Orleans. When 80-year old Lysle L. last saw his wife, she was finishing the chemo treatment for her cancer at Mercy Hospital. When the floods came and the power went out, Medi-vac helicopters came to take the hospital patients away to other hospitals in the region. Spouses and other loved ones were left behind to survive the horrific conditions at the New Orleans Convention Center.
I met Lysle as a volunteer at the evacuee medical center at the Palmer Convention Center. He was still in shock, and didn’t remember exactly what part of Texas he had been shipped to. With a short interview and several cell phone calls, I was excited to locate his wife in the Baton Rouge hospital, and handed Lysle my cell phone so the couple could speak together for the first time in several days. We determined Lysle had some great-nephews who lived in Austin, who were more than willing to come by and rescue him from the shelter.
There were many similar stories during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that underscore the importance of having a family emergency plan. One element of that plan should include one out-of-state friend or relative who can be a point of contact for those looking for you during an evacuation.
Months ago, the Texas Department of State Health Services launched an education effort called, “READY OR NOT? Have a Plan.” The goal of the public education campaign is to invite all Texans to discuss emergency evacuation and communication plans with their families. A comprehensive Web site, http://www.texasprepares.org helps you create a family emergency plan, build a customized disaster supplies list and get information about hurricanes and other disasters.
I still keep in touch with Lysle. He and his wife are happy to be back in the New Orleans area. Their home wasn’t damaged too much.
Assemble an emergency preparedness kit and a family action plan via the Web site.
Our clients at the Texas Department of State Health Services are reporting influenza (flu) activity level for Texas for the week ending February 2, 2008 is “widespread.” Widespread activity indicates that at least half of the regions in the state are experiencing an increase in influenza–like illness. This is not extraordinary for Texas, and currently 30 states are also reporting widespread flu outbreaks.
The federal government is encouraging citizens to learn more about a more severe type of flu outbreak the likes we haven’t seen in decades. A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic is possible when an influenza A virus makes a dramatic change that results in a new or novel virus to which people have little or no immunity. The new virus then begins to cause serious illness, event spreads easily from person to person and can sweep around the world quickly, potentially killing thousands. The Centers for Disease Control monitors worldwide flu outbreaks and currently there is no threat for the United States.
Because a major outbreak might require schools and businesses to shut down for several days, the question is, do you have essential supplies and emergency items for you and your family, just like you’d need for a hurricane?
Fear not, DSHS has a new education campaign, “Ready or not? Have a plan.” and a great Web site www.texasprepares.org which will walk you through the process of building an emergency plan for all public health emergencies like pandemic flu and hurricanes. After registering on the site, it allows you to build an emergency plan for you, your children and pets.
What’s really cool is the site helps you build and print a shopping list of the essentials you need to complete your emergency kit. Maybe you’ve got a stash of extra boxes of tissue, but you don’t have extra bottled water, hand sanitizer or face masks. With a few clicks you can print your shopping list, purchase what you need so you’ll be ready.
Flu Prevention: A new way to sneeze (in your sleeve)
Some time in the last 30 years, handkerchiefs became uncool. So our mothers all told us to sneeze and coughing into our hands to prevent germs from spreading to others. That’s great, except when you don’t clean your hands afterward. We open a door handle or shake hands with a colleague, potentially spreading those germs. Check out the new DSHS public service TV ad about flu, produced by EnviroMedia.
Tell your kids, colleagues and neighbors, “Do the world a favor and sneeze into your sleeve please.” Try it yourself. It may help prevent the spread of influenza.