A recent post by Tom Phelan got us thinking about the readability of emergency messages. Dr. Phelan’s point was that many emergency messages are written at too high a literacy level and won’t be correctly understood by many people.
So we decided to test this though by looking at some messages. The messages are from three communities in different parts of the US using a popular mass ENS service. The grade level score comes from readability-score.com.
Chance for light snow and patchy black ice this am please monitor your weather radio **** Grade level: 9.2
BLACK ICE IS EXPECTED TONIGHT THROUGH FRIDAY MORNING, MOTORISTS ARE URGED TO USE EXTREME CAUTION ON THE ROADWAYS **** Grade level: 10.5
19 mile fire in Jefferson County no homes or strctres affected in Butte Silver Bow MT2 frm Roosevelt Dr to MT41 JCT closed **** Grade level: 10.5
Crdt Scam in the Butte area autocaller from #000-000-0000 caling phones prpmts calrs to enter prsnl info dont answr **** Grade level: 8.2
We have taken several reports of various scams. Be very careful with activity involving personalinfo or financial transactions. **** Grade level 14.2
WEATHER ALERT: ‘Drenching’ Rain, Hazardous Weather Outlook Issued For New Jersey **** Grade level 10.5
We think there are more issues with messages like these than just the grade level. There are typos, abbreviations that might not make sense and a general lack of clarity in some messages.
Try this exercise on messages you’ve sent in the past. And ask random people (maybe a spouse, child, neighbor or someone at your church) if they understand the messages you’ve sent. Then think about how to make them clearer.
After all, if the message doesn’t communicate well, you’ve lost an important opportunity. And if a good message can save lives, a bad message might mean that lives are lost.