Part Three: ‘Be Prepared’

Be prepared, then – but who needs to do the preparing, and who do we dare discuss doing so with if we don’t want to set off a commotion? Government tries to be prepared and also to prepare us, but is mocked for mollycoddling or pilloried for panicking; in September 2019’s Preparedness Month, Police Scotland ran a #GrabBag promotion, promoting the idea of having an easy-to-grab package of essential items in the event an emergency should strike – copies of important personal and household documents, food and water, medications, a torch, a radio, mobile phone charging-banks – but swathes of the Great British public defaulted to accusations of ‘Government scaremongering’ (see part two in this blog series for more on public responses to Government messaging).

Seemingly then, there are a large proportion of people subscribed to the notion of keeping calm and carrying on, but what happens when you can’t? A recent building society survey found that around one in five UK adults have less than £100 in savings, despite conventional financial wisdom stating best practice is to have at least three months of expenses saved, with the average UK saver having shy of £7000 saved in 2020. 

An unhappy sad Women reading a bill, holding her glasses in one hand.

Certainly, more and more young adults are remaining reliant on the Bank of Mum and Dad in the UK, with one of the country’s largest mortgage lenders recently reporting that the average age of a first-time homebuyer is now 32 years old, with the average being above 30 years in every area of the country for the first time. More and more young adults are continuing to live in the family home well beyond their formative years– whether this is through necessity or out of choice is up for debate, but given the statistics on traditional savings, owning property, and even pensions (where despite a recent mild upswing from very low numbers of UK citizens taking out a private pension, the actual amount they are putting into that retirement pot each year is actually becoming less year on year), perhaps we need to consider whether these financial facts and figures are less to do with current circumstances (post-COVID economy restructuring, additional cost of living rises due to global tensions) and more to do with a generational shift in attitudes towards what’s important in life – to paraphrase my own parents' major disagreement from about 20 years ago, it’s all very well planning for tomorrow to be better, but what’s the point if you’re miserable today?

Even living day by day, however, requires forward planning for unforeseen eventualities. My paternal grandparents came to the UK from Ukraine in the late 1940s. They lived a simple existence in a small, terraced house in Keighley, West Yorkshire; my grandfather, a former academic in Lviv, did some small bits of teaching and worked in factories, whilst my grandmother took on cleaning jobs. They grew veg in a small allotment, my grandad made his own wines and jams from foraged bilberries and gooseberries he grew in his garden. I can remember visiting them throughout the 1980s and going through a door and down stone steps to this fantastic cave of wonder – the cellar! There they kept tins of spam, soup, and other long-life foods – one would hope that talk of Ukrainians being displaced from their homes, fleeing bloodshed and persecution, not knowing where their next meal was coming from was a concept that had been left in the last century, but recent events have unfortunately shown us this isn’t the case. My grandparents’ life experience had taught them to hope for the best but prepare for the worst – maybe as a society we’ve lost some of this learned experience?

A couple on a video call whilst sat on a sofa.

Hope for the best

That being said, the Covid-19 pandemic has given us all some experience of ‘the worst happening’, but also the unexpected good that can come from it too – some of us learned to crochet, others started growing their own vegetables, many got to grips with DIY, and who knows how many sourdough starters were attempted during 2020? Maybe one of the silver-linings that can emerge from the 'Covid cloud' is a greater understanding of what it is to be self-sufficient in the modern world. That said, the pandemic has also highlighted how interdependent we are, evidenced by supply chain issues, healthcare challenges, and even those quiz nights on Zoom!

So how can an understanding of behavioural science help us prepare for crises? Once again, advice is available from Social Change UK’s very own Behavioural Scientist, Dr Rachel Langbein:

“Countrywide and worldwide crises are large-scale events that can have significant impacts to life as we know it. Whilst strategies to prepare for, cope with and overcome such events must be designed to impact the masses, on an individual level people can respond in very different ways depending on how they process information (see blogs 1 and 2 in this series for more on effective messaging).

“With this knowledge of human behaviour in mind, the Centre for Disease Control have developed The CERC (Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication) Rhythm, which outlines the four key phases of a crisis (Preparation, Initial, Maintenance and Resolution) and how risk communication can and should be delivered during each phase.

“The first of these phases, Preparation, is a really important consideration when it comes to supporting people to 'be prepared' before crisis occurs. The CDC advise setting clear assumptions and establishing clear and open communication, meaning there is an obvious channel through which to receive information in the event that a crisis occurs.”

As we've discussed in our previous blogs, 'Keep Calm' and 'Don't Panic', if there is a lack of open communication prior to major events occurring, it can create mass panic and hysteria, as well as contributing to a lack of trust in the messenger(s) delivering the information. By planning ahead, drafting communications head of time and remaining transparent, messengers can build trust and provide reassurance to the wider public that action plans are being put into place.