Quick Response Bar Codes for Emergency Preparedness

Do you want to know what I consider a missed opportunity? All of the great work that folks in public health and emergency management put into poster development. See Something, Say Something. Get Yourself Tested. Be Ready. The Flu Ends with U. Great slogans each of them. And frankly, they look great on posters. Edgy images, bright (or dark) coloring, extreme close-ups, all caps san serif fonts; they can be really well done.

The problem is that the messages above are all that really fits on these posters. And I don’t think anyone would believe that these messages are the full amount of what we need to tell our publics about them. Get Yourself Tested is, as an example, pleading for more information to be included: tested for what, is it safe, is it private, I don’t sleep around, etc., etc., etc. See Something, Say Something? Say what, about what, to whom, is it wasting time, what if the police are the ones that are doing something weird, and on and on.

Our normal reaction to this obvious shortcoming (besides minuscule text at the bottom of the poster) is to print a website address on the poster and direct people for more information. For people with so-called “dumbphones” this is completely unhelpful unless they take out a pad and paper and jot the information down and hope to get it to later. Double-u, double-u, double-u, dot, pea, aitch, eye, el, ay… People with smartphones, though, have it a bit easier. All they have to do is type the address into their phone’s browser and get instant access to all of the relevant information when they need it most. Double-u, double-u, double-u, dot, pea, aitch, eye, el, ay…

There is another way to do it, though. So-called Quick Response Bar Codes, or QR codes, are increasingly finding their way into recent ad campaigns. They are being included for the same reasons I complain about above. Signs about, “Big Sale!” don’t really give all of the necessary details, and rather than refer people to some website or handout with all of the rules and regulations of the sale, stores have been including QR codes as a way to get deeper response from their customers. Special deals, the latest styles and more information is right at your fingertips.

How do QR codes work? Well, they’re just like the barcodes you see on every product you buy. But instead of some fifteen- or twenty-digit number identifying the product, they can hold oodles of information, like a website address or really anything else (What if it held an entire offline website accessible only by those who scan the code? I totally believe that QR codes are going to explode in use as coders continue to learn how best to use them). Using any of dozens of QR code readers freely downloadable to smartphones, the phone’s camera “scans” the QR code and “does” whatever the code says to. For the most part right now, they instruct the phone to open a browser and head to a particular website. Even with that rudimentary level of interaction, it is miles better than our current efforts. Couple that with it being free to create QR codes, essentially free to include on our posters and free to download QR code readers and this should be a no-brainer.


2 thoughts on “Quick Response Bar Codes for Emergency Preparedness

  1. I agree with your direction on QR. I’d add that this technology solves (in part) the age-old problem “its not enough to tell people what to do, you have to tell them why”. Look forward to a follow up from you on this. Would like to add my additional comments and link your post at Mitigation Journal…with your permission. Please let me know if your interested in collaborating on this. Rick

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