Turning the tides on child drowning
Rebecca Wear Robinson
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Grabbing Attention

by Rebecca Wear Robinson on July 10, 2013


“The problem is that people don’t care if their children die”

“The problem is that the public just doesn’t want to listen”

“The problem is that people just don’t understand the importance of learning about water safety”

And people keep drowning. Doesn’t it just make you want to scream with frustration?

I didn’t make up those quotes above, those are all things I’ve heard many times in the six years I’ve been working to end child drowning. Generally from dedicated but frustrated people who truly do not understand why the other 99.5% of the world’s population does not care about water safety and drowning prevention as much as we do. I mean, we get it! We understand the urgency, and the fact that drowning is preventable! How could anyone be so stupid not to care?

The real problem is that we are the problem. We aren’t grabbing people’s attention and then keeping it long enough to educate them about water safety. We need to learn how to grab the public’s attention and then convince them that they want to learn about water safety.

To grab someone’s attention, you have to make it relevant to them, you have to make them care, and you have to make it fun and easy to remember. Take Stop, Drop and Roll. Every school child in the U.S. is taught what to do in case their clothes catch on fire, starting in preschool. Statistically those same children are more likely to die from drowning than from burn injuries, but the simple and effective campaign has made basic fire safety information relevant, accessible and memorable to the general public, unlike any water safety campaign. Even better, every school child has the lesson reinforced every year when the fire department visits schools, talks about fire safety and reinforces the message of Stop, Drop and Roll.

The basic elements of a successful campaign?

  • Keep it simple. The basis for the campaign should be three words or less, because three words is the most people can reliably remember. Once you have their attention you can fill in the details, like how to tell if a fire is on the other side of a door, how to escape, setting a family meeting place, the importance of smoke alarms, etc.
  • Reinforce the message. Embed the core message as often as possible. You can expand on the theme of each safety message, but always link back to the main three word (max) message. Saturate media, social media and public awareness campaigns with the main message. The key is repetition. Stop, Drop and Roll gets people thinking about fire safety, it has become familiar and more interested in hearing other fire safety messages. Once you have their attention, and are keeping their attention, then you can also remind them to change their smoke alarm batteries when the clock changes twice a year or store their batteries safely.
  • Make it positive and fun. Tons of studies show that people change behavior if the message and motivation is positive. Negative messages just don’t work – not in the long run, and sometimes they backfire and make people care even less. Stop, drop and roll doesn’t minimize the danger of fire, it shows people that positive action can save their lives.

We need a Stop, Drop and Roll for drowning prevention.

I believe the message should be Teach. Watch. Protect. Teach because you need to teach swimming and water safety to everyone, especially children. Watch because you need to watch children whenever they are near water. Protect because you need layers of protection and to learn CPR in case of an emergency. Every single water safety message I know fits into one of those categories, which means that once we have captured the public’s attention with Teach. Watch. Protect., we can then build on the awareness with more in-depth water safety lessons.

Three words. Teach. Watch. Protect. Simple, positive and an easy and memorable message to reinforce. Click here to see see the words in action on the Jabari website.

We need to make Teach. Watch. Protect. the stop, drop and roll for drowning prevention.

If you agree that we need to get people’s attention, click here to Tweet ‘@RebeccaSaveKids Teach. Watch. Protect. and end drowning  http://bit.ly/1aaWBCu  #stopdrowning’

Who invented Stop, Drop and Roll? A music teacher from Dayton OH, Larry Marra, was working on composing a song to thank the Dayton fire safety spokesperson, Edward Cross, for coming and doing a presentation for Edison Elementary school. Stop, drop, and Roll was the result. Mr. Cross then requested a copy to send to his superiors. It was then launched as a National Fire Safety Campaign to prevent children from burning when their clothes caught fire. (Source: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/When_was_stop_drop_and_roll_invented )

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