If a natural disaster hit today, would you be prepared?
A FEMA survey from 2015 determined that only 39% of Americans have an established disaster plan in their household. That means that more than half of American households are not as prepared as they could be for a natural or weather-related disaster.
Percentage of Americans With Emergency Plans
As a lifelong Girl Scout, preparedness is very near and dear to my heart. So when I was charged with developing a multimedia educational resource guide for library users as part of my graduate coursework, I decided to focus on Natural Disaster Preparedness.
The resource guide consists of an overview of the topic, individual profiles on each of the eight most common and destructive natural disasters, and an overview of general emergency preparedness best practices. Each page contains useful information, links, videos, and other materials to help users gain a quick overview of the topic and make it easy for them to seek more information from reliable sources.
Content Strategy & Development
Once I had confirmed my topic, the first step was to define the scope of the resource guide.
Maintaining a balance between utility and user-friendliness was crucial—the scope needed to be narrow enough not to overwhelm users, but thorough enough that each topic area could be comprehensively covered.
I knew the first page of the guide would be an overview of disasters and the last would cover general emergency and disaster preparedness; deciding which types of disasters to include in the guide was a little trickier.
Hurricanes and wildfires seemed like a natural fit, but what about longer-term disasters such as rising global temperatures? Should man-made disasters such as bridge or building collapses be included? Does a blizzard rise to the level of natural disaster?
However, once I limited my scope to only include disasters that (a) were naturally-occurring, (b) were acute events with immediate and obvious effects, and (c) had the potential to cause widespread, catastrophic harm or damage, eight clear categories emerged:
Information architecture of Natural Disaster Preparedness resource Guide:
Content Development & Representation
Now that I had my topic areas, I needed to decide what information and resources to include in the guide, which sources had the best information, and how to organize the information on the page.
What is a [disaster]?
What are the warning signs of a [disaster]?
What should you do during/after a [disaster]?
Which agencies and organizations are studying or responding to [disaster]?
Where can I get more information, resources, or data on [disaster]?
Content Development & Representation
In addition to the content categories, I also requested feedback from my classmates and instructor about what the most optimal page layout might be for the content categories, information, and media types I was planning to represent within the guide.
At this point in the research process, I had plans to include the following types of content:
Links to useful online resources and tools + a brief description of the function/utility of the resource or tool
Embedded YouTube videos from reputable online sources regarding natural disasters or emergency preparedness
Reading lists featuring graphics + links + ISBN numbers for relevant printed materials
Useful graphics + links
Because of the high volume of links to list, as well as the high-quality video available, a three-column page layout was determined to be one of the most optimal ways to display the content in an accessible, user-friendly way.
The narrower sidebars to the left and right were ideal for featuring lists of links and text in a compact, easy-to-skim way, while the larger central content area provided plenty of space for an embedded video or larger graphic.
Content-wise, there were a lot of reputable resources to choose from. I followed a similar development plan for each page to try to maintain a similar standard of information and a similar ratio of government agencies and tools, non-governmental entities, and relevant media sources.
Many government agencies specializing in the study of the seismic or atmospheric phenomena that can cause these disasters had a lot of great information and resources, and even online tools. Agencies specializing in disaster relief were also great sources of information, as was the National Geographic and American Red Cross websites and YouTube accounts.