A lesson in rewriting emergency alerts

Since we just published our take on how to write emergency alerts, we thought we could use an alert we just got from NYAlerts to suggest ways to improve your alert writing skills.

Below are three versions of the alert: (1) the original text; (2) our re-write, using the format provided by the alert, since it appears to be pre-formatted to those 6 elements: headline, description, locations, timing, impacts and instructions, and (3) our re-write, using the guidelines from Professor Mileti.

The amount of detail you want to include and what description will be most helpful are obviously judgment calls and local knowledge is key.  But we like our versions better for a few reasons:

  1. Less ambiguity. What is “early this evening?”  If 8PM is clear, why not stick with that?  What’s the difference between a “dangerous area” and any other structure?  Isn’t the issue here that any structure is a risk because a wave can cause a swimmer to collide with it?
  2. Less formal language. Why a “Beach Hazards Statement” instead of just “Hazardous Beach Conditions?” In fact, with a little more time, we might try to simplify that phrase.  How about “Unsafe Beaches?”
  3. Active, rather than passive verbs.  You learned this in school.  “Remains in effect” is passive.  Actually, we just took out the verb in the 2nd re-write.
  4. Shorter. On a word count basis, we saved 10 words, which is more than 10%.  It’s just easier to read.

 

Actual Alert

* HEADLINE: Beach Hazards Statement issued June 14 at 10:30AM EDT until June 14 at 8:00PM EDT by NWS Buffalo

* DESCRIPTION: …BEACH HAZARDS STATEMENT REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING…

* LOCATIONS…Beaches of Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties.

* TIMING…Through early this evening.

* IMPACTS…Strong currents and dangerous swimming conditions.

INSTRUCTIONS: A Beach Hazards Statement is issued when there is a high swim risk. This means life threatening waves and currents are expected. Stay out of the water and stay away from dangerous areas like piers and breakwalls.

1st Re-Write

* HEADLINE: NWS Buffalo: Hazardous Beach Conditions from June 14 at 10:30AM EDT until June 14 at 8:00PM EDT

* DESCRIPTION: …HAZARDOUS BEACH CONDITIONS ARE IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING…

* IMPACTS…High risk of drowning. Life threatening waves and currents expected.

* LOCATIONS…Lake Ontario Beaches of Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties, NY. From Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fair Haven.

* INSTRUCTIONS: …Stay out of the water and away from piers, breakwalls and other structures near the water’s edge.

* TIMING…Through 8PM tonight.

 

2nd Re-Write

* HEADLINE: NWS Buffalo: Hazardous Beach Conditions, June 14 from 10:30AM until 8:00PM (EDT).

* SOURCE: NWS Buffalo

* HAZARD: …LIFE THREATENING BEACH CONDITIONS UNTIL 8 PM THIS EVENING…High risk of drowning. Life threatening waves and currents expected.

* LOCATIONS…The southern shore of Lake Ontario including Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties, NY. From Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fair Haven.

* GUIDANCE: …Stay out of the water and away from piers, breakwalls and other structures near the water’s edge. Do not swim.

* EXPIRATION…Through 8PM tonight.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply