The Omaha, Nebraska program is called Project Extra Mile (Metropolitan Omaha, Douglas and Sarpy Counties) Underage Drinking Prevention Project. Project Extra Mile was initially housed within a long standing community sub-stance abuse awareness and prevention program called PRIDE-Omaha, Inc. It was initially funded through a grant from the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety. Then primary funding was provided through grants from the Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).
In October 1997, Project Extra Mile was incorporated as a separate non-profit organization with a board of directors. As such it could independently solicit funds and received $25,000 from a foundation to conduct a concentrated advocacy effort during the legislative session. They also applied regularly for other funds, including from the United Way and local foundations, and received private donations from individuals and groups that constituted a small portion of their funding.
Started in November 1995, the first project year was spent conducting a comprehensive needs assessment, as well as organizing a coalition to help develop and implement the strategic plan.
A full-time project coordinator was hired and began work on accomplishing the project’s objectives. The coalition was formed engaging representatives of community groups such as the Omaha Community Partnership, the Human Services Round Table, the public schools, law enforcement, clergy, alcoholic beverage retailers, the judiciary, public health, parents, youth and others.
The needs assessment included conducting intercept surveys in shopping malls and theaters which revealed that nearly 60% of youth reporting drinking alcoholic beverages. Focus groups were conducted among both youths and adults. The youths participating indicated a lack of a clear and consistent message not to drink from both parents and other authority figures. They also indicated that alcohol was readily available. There was also a sense of lack of accountability for youth and adults for not complying with the law. Examination of available data indicated that alcohol-related crashes among youth were a problem and there was diminished enforcement of underage drinking laws.
The coalition was organized into four workgroups covering specific subject areas. These are public policy, enforcement and adjudication of youth alcohol laws, public information and education, and reducing access and availability. The coalition met on a monthly basis and the four work groups met separately, as needed.
The mission statement of the program was “To create a community consensus that clearly states that underage alcohol use is illegal, unhealthy, and unacceptable.”
Specific goals that were identified in the first project year were:
- To increase awareness of youth drinking and driving issues and youth alcohol laws by the general public;
- To educate the medical community treating the under 21 group on the is-sue of underage drinking and drinking-driving.
- To provide school staff, students, and school-related groups with current information on youth alcohol issues, including drinking and driving and youth alcohol laws; and
- To maintain an established, informed community coalition and provide in-formation to the community regarding the coalition’s mission and activities.
In the next project year, the coalition developed a strategic plan that identified specific activities for each workgroup to undertake. In subsequent years, the coalition moved forward on addressing these specific objectives. They are summarized by workgroup below.
The charge of the Public Information and Education (PI&E) workgroup was to provide for increased public awareness of both the tragic and harmful consequences of underage drinking, as well as of the laws that govern the use of alcohol by persons under age 21. Specific strategies implemented included:
- Development/production of a 10-minute video to communicate the work of the coalition;
- Development/production of three 30-second television PSAs for use in Omaha and Lincoln markets;
- Development/distribution of several 15-second PSAs to air on radio stations during times of high interest;
- Distribution of a monthly newsletter to 2,500 statewide (media, policymakers, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, school principals, community groups and others);
- Designed/mailed oversized postcards to parents of more than 23,000 high school students (three separate message postcards in a 12-month period, working with school districts to have access to their mailing labels);
- Developed a project brochure (disseminated more than 4,000 copies); and
- Designed and distributed (through coalition members) a retailer encouragement card that asked retailers to always check the ID of underage customers.
Other activities were: monthly community coalition and work group meetings, news conferences/media events, speakers bureau, letters to the editor/news releases highlighting enforcement efforts, etc.
Access and Availability Workgroup
The objective of this workgroup was to reduce the access and availability of alcohol by persons under age 21 through efforts to limit both retail and social availability. Specific strategies included:
- Monitoring hearings of the Liquor Control Commission;
- Surveying liquor license holders in the metro area regarding education/training issues;
- Sending merchant letters to retailers encouraging them to not advertise beer at Halloween using the holiday characters that appeal to youth (national Hands Off Halloween campaign);
- Enlisting the support of retailers by their display of signs indicating participation in the Hands Off Halloween campaign; and
- Holding a news conference to highlight the community’s support of advertising restraint by retailers during Halloween and subsequent holidays.
This workgroup concentrated on efforts to increase the enforcement of youth alcohol laws and the subsequent adjudication (disposition) of those cases. The strategy involved collaboration with all 11 metropolitan Omaha law enforcement agencies to conduct multi-jurisdictional compliance checks and other enforcement efforts at least three times per year. These compliance checks involved underage persons attempting to purchase beverage alcohol. If the establishment sold beverage alcohol to the underage persons, law enforcement officers served citations. The number of businesses that sold alcohol to youth dropped from 41% in February, 1997, to 18% in April, 2000. Awareness of the need for enforcement by local agencies seemingly was raised, in that minor in possession of alcohol citations in Omaha increased by 23% in 1999.
Efforts were directed at improving existing laws and reducing the loopholes in current laws to produce a more effective, consistently applied statute. Specific strategies included:
- Coalition members advocated successfully for a law to give the Liquor Control Commission (LCC) the option to not allow liquor license holders the ability to buy-out suspensions through payment of a cash penalty for repeatedly selling alcohol to minors.
- Advocated for increased administrative penalties for retailers selling to minors; the LCC administratively doubled the length of suspension for violators in March, 1997.
- Worked with a senator to enact a Use and Lose law for youth under 21 who use or consume alcohol. This law was designed to apply driver license penalties for persons convicted of underage drinking, even if they were not driving at the time of the citation.
- Held a legislative breakfast for Omaha state senators and candidates at which issues about underage drinking were discussed.
- Met with local, state, and federal officials to increase the awareness and sensitivity to the issue of underage drinking.
Youth In Action
The objective was to provide opportunities for youth to be involved in environmental prevention and change through coalition activities as well as specifically youth-directed efforts. Specific strategies included:
- Youth participation in compliance checks/enforcement efforts as persons attempting to purchase beverage alcohol;
- Youth testifying at legislative hearings;
- Twenty-five percent of the Board of Directors were youth (4 of 16);
- Youth involvement in meetings with local, state, and federal officials;
- Youth meeting with the Governor to successfully request the establishment of a task force to look at underage drinking issues;
- Conducting multiple training sessions to teach youth about environmental issues; and
- Youth involvement in speakers bureau and media interviews.
Crash data from the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles were used in the impact analysis. The data covered the years 1990 - 1999. The measure of youth-involved, alcohol-related crashes was the number of nighttime single-vehicle in-jury crashes involving drivers under the age of 21 years in Douglas and Sarpy Counties. The totality of all other counties in the state was used as a comparison.
Time series of quarterly counts of these crashes were analyzed using the ARIMA analysis method. To make the series stationary as required by ARIMA, 4-span differencing was used. A logarithmic transformation was used to improve the fit to the data. Step function and ramp intervention functions at times near to January, 1997 (the date of the initiation of significant program activity) were examined in the analysis.
Figure 3-1 shows the data and the modeled series fitted to the data. None of the intervention functions produced any significant effect (t = -0.06) on nighttime single-vehicle injury crashes involving the under 21 year old drivers.