Programming Ideas

While messing around with my blog settings last week, I came across the search terms that most frequently bring people to this site. It shouldn’t have surprised me that a lot of people come here by searching “Door Dec Ideas”. I did the exact same thing when I found out I was going to be an RA.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of door dec ideas. I liked the ones I did (interstate signs with the person’s name and direction their dorm room faced) but I never took any pictures and it was the only idea I ever had to come up with. I think some schools change up their decs every month/semester…but we didn’t.

If I can brag though, I did come up with some pretty great programs this year, so I can talk about that. But first, I can share some things I learned about running a successful program.

1) Marketing. Start early, and cover all your bases. Social media has made it so easy to reach your entire residence population, but you have to try to be a little more creative. Students get inundated with so much information, and the more that business and schools cotton onto the ease and relative affordability of social media advertising, the more this becomes true. It also means that your program can get lost in the constant updates. and that’s why you can’t forget to use posters. We would do stuff like a massive chalk drawing to promote programs, or we’d stick our posters in random spots, or put them upside down–anything to get people to pay attention.

2) Rounds are a great way to let people know about a program. It’s easy to ignore a poster you pass every day; it’s a lot harder to ignore a person standing in front of you, telling you about the AMAZING trip that’s happening next weekend. This is also how you can convey your enthusiasm in a way that goes beyond putting six exclamation marks behind an announcement for your movie night!!!!!!

3) Choose programming your community wants, but also choose programming YOU want. Remember that you’re a student too, and if you like something, you’ll likely find other people who like it too. The more you love an idea, the more you’re going to put into it, which ultimately makes a better program. And when it’s 2:00 AM and you’re making posters for your Doctor Who marathon, you’re less likely to curse your job if you’re genuinely excited for the program.

Onto the ideas! These are the seven programs I ran (or helped run) last year.

1) Self-defence: This was moderately successful. We had to change the location at the last-minute due to weather, so fewer people showed up. We got a female police officer in to teach self-defence for two hours. We made it clear that the program was open to everyone, not just women. Everyone who showed up had a great time and we all learned tons. I got to flip people over my shoulder, something I never thought I could do!

2) Girls Night: This was something I did when I realized that my floor wasn’t bonding as much as they could have. It was super simple to plan. We made mocktails, played Just Dance 2, did face masks, and then watched Bridesmaids. I asked one of the girls who had shown some enthusiasm to come up with an ice-breaker and it was honestly the most successful part of the night (this also worked out well because I hate running ice-breakers). It was super successful, and all of my girls told me later it was one of the best things we did on the floor.

3) Proofreading: This one was definitely a failure. I hosted it about 2 weeks before exams when everyone had papers due for this communications class that was almost universally mandatory for every first year program. I’m not sure if it was the timing, or we just didn’t advertise enough, but even though people said they would show up, no one did.

(The secret no one ever tells you about programming is sometimes it works out when it fails. My friend Natasha and I spent the whole two hours working on our papers instead, and we both got A’s. But don’t tell my boss.)

4) Positive quotes: This was honestly a program borne out of total laziness. I wanted to do a positive body image program, and by the end of November, I just ran out of time. Instead, I wrote out a bunch of my favourite quotes in colourful markers and posted them all around our building. I figured that at least staff members would get a kick out of reading them on rounds, but to my surprise the residents LOVED it. I have tons of people tell me that they were having a really bad day, or were super stressed, and coming across the quotes made them feel way better.

My favourite quote?

“Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh

5) Santa Claus: Some of my best programs were ones I stole adapted from other people. This one started when my friend Brianna said she wanted to take her residents to see Santa. Someone else said we should get Santa to come to Res instead. I joked that we should get our boss to play Santa, and someone said that I would never in a million years convince him.

Challenge accepted.

He agreed, on the condition that our other boss dressed up like an elf. He reluctantly agreed, on the condition that I also be dressed like an elf. It was an awesome program. Brianna took pictures, and we charged $2 per person, or $1 with some canned goods for the food bank. We got so much food, so it was great charity event as well.

This was that staff picture we took:

Semester 2:

Therapy Dogs: I talked about this in an earlier post, and I can say it was the most successful program we did. My friend Whitney came up with the idea and I helped her execute. We knew that tons of resident missed their pets, and that dogs have been proven to make people feel better. It was so successful that we hosted it again closer to the end of the year.

The Hunger Games: Remember how I was talking about being enthusiastic about your program? This was a program I did because I was SO excited to see the Hunger Games I wanted to share it with other people who were just as enthusiastic. It was a great time, even though we had a small turnout. And I got to totally geek out with other Hunger Games fanatics.

Hallway Hunters: This was originally called “Marker Murder” but it was decided that “murder” was not something that should be promoted in residence, for some weird reason. The concept was adapted from a floor wars competition on my friend Ambre’s floor, where she gave every resident a Sharpie, with the goal that they needed to “mark” each other on the forearm in order to “kill each other”. She started it early in first semester and I think it was still going on into 2nd semester. We adapted ours so we were using clothespins, and we did it for our whole building. A great, low-cost programming idea that helps residents get to know each other.

Other programs: Some of the successful programs run by other RAs included going spelunking at some nearby caves, a trip to Medieval Times, a trip to Canada’s Wonderland for Halloween Haunt, a Disney Movie Marathon, and a great game my friend Ambre planned called “Zombie Island”.

If any new RAs have any questions about these programs, leave me a comment and I’ll give you as much information as I have. I still have posters for a lot of these programs saved, and I’d be happy to pass them along.


TedTalk: Cheap, effective shelter for disaster relief

A good friend posted this TedTalk on my Facebook wall, and I just had to share it on here. It’s Michael McDaniel discussing how Hurricane Katrina inspired him to come up with a better solution than an overcrowded arena for temporary housing.

I LOVE stories like this. About people who identify a problem and, convinced that there has to be a better way, work away until they come up with a solution. Affordable, comfortable, temporary housing is definitely one of the major problems facing emergency managers, and I love how adaptable the little units are.

Also, I suspect that this could also conveniently solve the problem of what to do with pets when people are evacuated, so….win-win-win.

Passing my DRI exam

This is several weeks old, but I’m still excited about it!

Of course, the first thing they tell me is that I now owe $160…but that’s okay.

I think, in all honesty, the thing that makes me the most excited is that I can now put letters after my name.

Because I’m pretentious like that.

I may, in fact, insist that my brothers only refer to me as “Alex, ABCP.”

But I probably won’t. It’s a little too similar to the time I insisted on being called “Princess Alex”.

Clearly, I’ve grown up a lot since last summer.

Are We Ready for the Next Pandemic?

Last week, I drove down to Peterborough to volunteer with the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. As a part of Emergency Preparedness week, they held the above event, which included presentations from the Health Unit and Emergency Management Ontario on what the County and Province have done to prepare for a pandemic.

My main motivation for going down was visiting some friends and family and taking a break from the mind numbing grind of applying for jobs, but it was a very educational day. If there’s one catchphrase I heard a lot this year, it was “It’s not if, but when,” and that sentiment was echoed many times last Thursday. The Medical Officer of Health explained how the flu mutates and pandemics evolve. Something really interesting I learned was that the flu spreads much faster to communities along the 401 because of travellers and commuters. Remind me to move to the middle of nowhere!

In all seriousness, one of the topics discussed was how immunizations are one of the most effective weapons against a pandemic. I’m terrible about getting my flu shot. I’m not overly afraid of needles but I never think it’s worth my time. The one time I got the shot was during H1N1 when the community centre I worked at was turned into an assessment centre. I remember so many people lining up for a shot, and I had to get it in order to keep working. Of course, two days later I got sick with the worst cold I’d ever had and was convinced I was dying of “swine flu” anyway. But I was able to return to work the next day, which was fortunate because helping set up the assessment centre was what made me realize that emergency management was a career and that it might just be perfect for me.

Pandemic planning has never been my favourite aspect of emergency management, but I’m convinced it’s probably one of the most important. While the province is relatively prepared for most of the strains, there are some that we have no idea about. H5N1 in particular has a high fatality rate and while it hasn’t mutated yet, it may only be a matter of time. I love how enthusiastic Peterborough is about EM and preparedness, and if you look at how the city responded to H1N1, I think it’s really paid off! Hopefully the rest of the province agrees.

Lessons Learned from a Multi-Centre Exercise

About a month ago, I acted as controller for an emergency exercise that I had designed as a part of my EMBC program. The exercise I controlled for was part of a larger Multi-Centre exercise that involved three townships and the county. This exercise had been a year-long project, essentially like a thesis project for my program (which is only a year long).

The exercise narrative involved an ice storm, with my township experiencing complications like a truck crash on the highway, power outages, and house fires. (No skittles this time…)

The design process was complicated due to the nature of the exercise. Because we had 4 EOC’s running over a 4 hour period (with one half-hour period where all four were activated simultaneously), we had to figure out a way to deliver inputs smoothly. Eventually, we decided we would have one Master Sim Cell which would be separate from the EOC’s, and then three smaller Sim Cells in each township. In retrospect, this was one aspect of the exercise that I would have changed if I could do it again.

The night before the exercise, I could barely sleep, I was so anxious. I had been working on this project since before Christmas, and I was going to be completely in charge–all of our teachers and my project manager would be at the Master Sim or other EOCs. Fortunately, my classmate and best friend would be with me, taking charge of our mini-Sim Cell.

The day of the exercise, I drove myself and two classmates to the Town Hall, which was about a 35 minute drive away. There was a moment when I was convinced I had put the wrong address into my GPS and we were going to be super-late, but we arrived right on time.

As for the exercise, it went well. Being the perfectionist that I am, within 20 minutes of activation, I was convinced the entire thing was a disaster. Everything felt too slow, and my Sim Cell had identified a few problems with my inputs. By the time the exercise ended, however, I felt differently. The debrief and evaluation went well, with most participants agreeing that it had been a good experience. Though it was incredibly unnerving to stand in front of the ECG (including the Mayor, CAO, police chiefs and fire chiefs) and tell them what to do, it was also really cool.

I mentioned I would do a few things differently if I could do it all over, and here they are:

1) I would have one master Sim Cell. One of the biggest problems we had was communicating changes to the script. We would change an input that fire was giving, but have trouble updating our OPP rep in the Master Sim, so conflicting information was going into the EOC. Most exercises aren’t perfect, and sometimes things need to be changed on the fly, which is much easier when you have fire and police sitting next to each other in the Sim Cell. That being said, I had a lot of “on-the-fly” changes, which brings me to my next lesson:

2) Research, research, research. I spent hours upon hours looking at maps of my township, researching streets and hazards and response protocol. What I didn’t do was ask any first responders from the township whether my scenario was realistic or not, and I should have. The participants in my Sim Cell were great at improvising and coming up with changes (by changing where a power outage might be, for example, or fixing street names) but you don’t always have the luxury of first responders in the Sim Cell. The more realistic the scenario, the more prepared the municipality is for a real disaster.

3) Relax. I heard advice once that was something along the lines of “Prepare as much as you can and then relax.” Though there were things I could have done differently before the exercise, I genuinely feel as though I had no way of learning that until I’d gone through it. I’d worked hard on the exercise, and there was no need for me to get as stressed out as I was on the day off. Fortunately, I did learn that I work well under pressure. Any situation that came up, I managed to resolve, and even though my insides were a jumbled mess of nerves, I’m pretty sure I appeared calm and professional.

The best thing about this exercise is that it only confirmed further just how badly I want to work in this industry. The excitement and enthusiasm are so apparently in an EOC, even in an exercise. Even the design process was incredibly satisfying and fun. I just hope that despite all of the cuts I’m hearing about, I’ll be able to find some kind of position that will let me put this experience to good use!