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CDC's bridezilla blog gets even critics talking preparedness

Could you get 200 wedding guests into the bathroom if a tornado hit?

The CDC team that brought us zombie preparedness tips last year seems to have hit on one good formula for helping Americans get ready for disasters, natural or otherwise, in a blog post on preparedness, experts say. And none too soon, as half of all Americas seem clueless about what they need to do to prepare, according to a new poll.

“You never know when Bridezilla might pop up,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's blog cautions. “Be supportive and have some bottled water from your emergency kit and a box of chocolate on hand.”

But it weaves in some serious pointers. “Make sure all of the guests are aware of who they can call if there is an emergency,” the blog, written by Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response staffer Caitlin Shockey, advises.

“If a tornado warning rips through the area, would you know what to do?  200 guests are not going to be able to crowd into the one windowless bathroom.  Ask the reception venue for their emergency plans and evacuation routes.”

The blog post got more than 50,000 hits the first week, according to the site analytics company Omniture, and generated some lively comments, many of them critical.

“Another waste of taxpayer money. It (is) not our government('s) business to be in the wedding business, get out of our lives and spend the money reducing the debt,” complained one reader who gave the name Judith Sabella.

But risk communications expert Jody Lanard said controversy can be good. “It got people who are completely uninterested and who would never read past the headline of a safety article to read all the way through, even if the only reason they read through was because they thought it was stupid,” Lanard said in a telephone interview. “CDC has seduced them into reading it all the way through so they can hone their snarky remarks.”

The key is balancing humor with serious advice, said Lanard.  “I think they are brilliant for doing this,” she said. “It’s so nice to have something nice to say about CDC.”

A survey released on Friday suggests it’s none too soon. It found 53 percent of the 1,000 adults questioned did not have the recommended three-day supply of nonperishable food and water stored at home, and 55 percent thought the authorities would look after them in case of a disaster – something the Health and Human Services Department and the Department of Homeland Security have repeatedly stressed is not the case.

The survey also found 63 percent did not have a list of their current medications prepared in case of a natural disaster and 52 percent lacked copies of health insurance documents.

“About a third of people weren’t sure they could name the prescription medications that they needed with the doses. That is surprising and alarming,” said Philip Alcabes, director of the Public Health Program at Adelphi University, who led the study. He said 44 percent didn’t have a first aid kit.

 “Our health officials are doing a very good  job --  maybe too good a job -- of warning people about unlikely events, but not a good job of letting people know how to be prepared to take care of themselves,” Alcabes said in a telephone interview.

But he isn’t sure about the Bridezilla blog. “Clearly CDC is trying to take account of the relatively new way that information spreads: put something onto the blogosphere, put it in Twitter. That makes sense,” he said. “But it is hard to know whether this sort of jocular approach makes sense. Do you get information across while you are kind of joking with people, or is it so ridiculous to people that they just stop paying attention?”

The comments were running four to one in favor of the Bridezilla jokes. “These blogs are probably the absolute cheapest, most effective way to get preparedness messages out to a broad audience. This blog right here probably saved CDC a TON of $$$ compared to the alternatives,” said a reader who gave only the name Mark. “Even the haters read it despite themselves. I think it’s a great follow up to the zombie apocolypse bit.”

The CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response team, led by public relations veteran Dave Daigle and his associates Catherine Jamal and Maggie Silver, won an HHSInnovates award in March for the zombie blog post. “When the campaign went viral, its messages reached millions of viewers, and personal knowledge about preparing for disasters was enormously increased – for an initial investment of only $87,” HHS said in awarding the prize.

Erica Ayisi contributed to this story.

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