The Ark Project: A Winter Storm Campaign for USGS

Spring 2009  

In a culture of alarm fatigue, how to find innovative ways to provoke readiness without causing fear or panic? How to turn preparedness for a natural disaster of large scale into a broad-based cultural value?


“The task of the Winter Storm Scenario is to elevate the very real threats to human life, property and even ecosystems from extreme winter storms on the US West Coast to increase preparedness of the emergency management community and public.”

– Dale Alan Cox, Project Manager, USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project

“One of the things I learned along the way about advertising–it is not just about creativity for the sake of creativity.”

– David Droga, Droga5

“We are all left (unnecessarily/obliviously) vulnerable to a devastation that could make Hurricane Katrina look like the morning after a nasty frat party.”

– Elena Salij, Chairman, Advertising Department


Design Brief

Create a brand identity and preparedness campaign to ready Californians for a potentially catastrophic west coast weather phenomenon whose devastation would be on par with that of Hurricane Katrina. The basis for the design brief stems from data for the storm collected by on an ongoing study led by the Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project of the United States Geological Survey, that is designing a scenario for a hypothetical, but plausible and massive West Coast winter storm analogous to storms that slammed California in 1861/62.

Research and Development

The work-product of the studio, ‘advertising,’ was not advertising as conventionally defined. Instead, students were challenged to consider all forms of persuasive communications, and all mechanisms of engagement—creating new events, happenings, and structures that convey the message, provoke the thought, or inspire the actions that are required for behavior change and action.

Key inspiration for the integrated approach of the class and their overall objective of generating momentum about the disaster cause with one big idea was Droga5, the advertising agency conceived by maverick David Droga [watch him at] as a creative and advertising collective and “advertising for the brands that will shape the 21st Century,” and two of their key campaigns Tap Project for UNICEF and The Million Program for New York City’s Department of Education. David Droga lectured to the team and brought creatives from his agency to critique the students’ work as it developed.

A comprehensive briefing by project partners from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) with Dale Cox, Sue Perry, and Dr. Lucy Jones also grounded the project in important data. The research phase of the project was further enriched by a panel of scientific and media experts including Dennis Mileti (Professor Emeritus, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado); Marty Ralph (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/NOAA); Mike Dettinger (USGS/Scripps Institution of Oceanography), Mark Jackson (National Weather Service Forecaster) and Jack Popejoy (KFWB Radio).


Read more

- Every month of December, the campaign would roll out with communications and messaging focused on reminding citizens that it is the season for this potentially catastrophic storm - citizens would be urged to sign up for alerts.

Read more

- the communications would be triggered when the threat of this storm is imminent - messaging would be focused on urging citizens to purchase provisions/prepare to evacuate if necessary.

Next Steps



The MHDP team of USGS is currently at work in developing the full scenario of the “Ark Storm.” The contributions of the studio and the campaign envisioned have already made a difference in branding the scenario for USGS and in providing a communication strategy for public awareness. Components of the campaign and a full vision of the scientific effort were summarized in a presentation film produced through Designmatters by ArtCenter alumni Theo Alexopoulos, Tina Chiang and Sean Starkweather.