A council has been forced to defend a tweet after it was scolded for causing panic and alarm among residents.
On Sunday, the Wandsworth Council posted a picture on Twitter urging its residents in south London to pack a bag to grab-and-go in an emergency.
“A Grab Bag is a bag full of emergency items in case you need to flee your home immediately without time to pack,” the council wrote.
“Some of the items that are suggested for the bag include a first aid kit, batteries, a whistle and a torch.”
But the post caused unintentional panic among residents, with many fearing they missed an important announcement about why they needed to flee the home imminently.
“I’m actually really irritated by this. Why would we need to flee our home in Wandsworth? What are you anticipating? What emergency plan? Care to elaborate?” one person replied to council.
“What are we expecting next? Zombies?” another said.
“I think we are all anxious enough right now don’t you?” a third added.
One woman lambasted the council and said it was “irresponsible” to tweet the advice out of nowhere, especially amid a global pandemic.
You are all going to tip over the edge some of the people with mental health problems, already seriously exacerbated by actions - or lack of them - of gov (central and local), NHS and media.
This campaign is very badly timed.
Don't say you weren't warned.
— Janny Girl (@SilkCutBlue) September 20, 2020
“While I get the point they’re trying to make, this is just panic inducing for anyone with anxiety and it could tip them over the edge. Right now we need companies, government and media to calm and reassure the public not scare them! Mental health issues are rising exponentially,” another agreed.
“Why on earth would you be doing this in the middle of a pandemic, which happens to be getting worse ... whoever thought this up needs a good talking to ... timing is crap and it’s likely to scare a lot of people,” one said.
Some however supported the council’s message and told people criticising it to “get a grip”.
“This is an annual thing for the whole of September. Preparedness for any and all eventualities. It’s got nothing to do with the ‘current situation’,” one said.
“Great idea but perhaps could have read the room and considered the anxiety this could cause some. Could have been worded a bit better,” another claimed.
It should be binned!! It’s ridiculous and someone should have realised at this point in time it’s not helpful and will cause so much distress to people including the elderly and people suffering from mental health issues?
— Nicky Brown (@NickyBr19027366) September 21, 2020
“In fairness, lots of councils do this every year have done for many years. Every year, people assume it's to do with current events when it isn't. I'm not sure how they can really get around this without binning the campaign entirely?” a third added.
Labor MP for Tooting, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, said it was part of council’s preparedness month, but without context it “seems like a zombie apocalypse is imminent”.
“Think less ‘prepare for a zombie apocalypse’ and more ‘have you topped up your first aid kid recently’,” she said.
The Wandworth Council tweeted it was not trying to scare anybody and the advice was part of its contribution to the #30days30waysUK campaign – a month-long national campaign to encourage people to be prepared for emergencies.
— Wandsworth Council (@wandbc) September 20, 2020
“We’re working with our Emergency Planning team to send out a tweet a day advising people how to be prepared in different situations,” the council said.
A spokesperson told the BBC the campaign was supported by councils, the National Health Service, police and fire services and is aimed at people in vulnerable situations who may be required to leave their homes at short notice.
“This includes people living in a flood risk area, victims of domestic violence or those who may be affected by a gas leak or power cut,” the spokesperson said.
“This national campaign simply urges people to be prepared for sudden emergencies.”
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