How Will More Extreme Weather Affect Public Perception of Warnings?

Many climate scientists are predicting that we’ll see more extreme weather events in the future. As USA Today put it recently, “ …this is only the beginning of what will be decades of increasingly dangerous and damaging extreme weather…”  Last week’s huge run of tornadoes seems to fit into that pattern, even if most experts caution about attributing specific events to broader climate trends. 

Which got us wondering how the headlines about extreme weather affect the public’s perception of emergency alerts about the weather. So we went back into the research to see what it says.

As in most social science research, the data is a little murky. But this point stood out to us: people in the Southeast – where tornadoes have the deadliest effect – tend to take tornado warnings more seriously than folks who live where tornadoes are less frequent. 

And another point that was really interesting: most tornado warnings – one source said 75% – are false alarms. Which means that those same folks in the Southeast are both getting false alarms and taking them seriously, regardless. 

And that makes sense to us. While there might be lots of false alarms, there are also many actual tornadoes that cause great destruction: destruction that shows up on the local news. And every time an area gets hit with a disaster, it increases interest in being prepared for “the next time.”

We’ve seen the same thing happen in areas with big wildfires. Some of the biggest spikes in registration for emergency alerts happen exactly when there’s front page evidence that the information in alerts might actually be useful. 

So we’re going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: as extreme weather events of any nature – tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, etc. – become more frequent, the public’s interest in emergency alerts is going to increase.

Using Alert Systems for Events.

Got a local event going on? Whether it’s a bass tournament, a concert or a marathon, many communities have local events that bring in lots of visitors from outside their immediate jurisdictions. And communication with those visitors can be difficult during emergencies and other important situations.

Hyper-Reach can help.

Our new EventReach™ service lets event attendees quickly and easily register for emergency alerts and other important information, just by texting a code to our instant registration number. Then, when you need to send information to your attendees, just create and send a message in the Hyper-Reach system. It’s as simple as that.

With EventReach, registrations are kept active for as long as you determine. You can keep registrations active before, during and after your event to notify visitors while they are on their way, while attending the event, and when they’re on their way home. Here are some of the kinds of messages you can send:

  • Traffic issues around the event
  • Announcements of drawings, surprise events
  • Weather events
  • Delays and changes of venue
  • Cancellations
  • Emergency situations
  • Thank you messages for attending

And EventReach is fully integrated with the Hyper-Reach system, which means that when you send emergency notifications based on the area where the event is taking place, your message will go to both your residents and your visitors, without having to select the visitors list separately. 

So if you’ve got an event coming up, try the new EventReach service. Just contact your Hyper-Reach representative to learn how. 

What India Can Teach Us About Emergency Alerts.

At the beginning of May, the state of Odisha, on the east coast of India, was hit by a cyclone (aka hurricane) with up to 125 mph winds. This is a very poor part of India, where a more powerful storm had killed over 9,000 people 20 years ago. But because of advance preparations, a “zero casualties” policy of the Indian government, and millions of emergency messages, the official death toll from the storm is less than 80 people.

A lot of preparations went into minimizing the number of deaths. Over 900 shelters were created and evacuation plans were tested. A disaster task force, command and control structure and other elements were put in place, and people were recruited and trained to help. There was also a big improvement in early warning systems.  

Emergency notification was also a big part of the preparations and response.  As the New York Times reported: 

“To warn people of what was coming, they deployed everything they had: 2.6 million text messages, 43,000 volunteers, nearly 1,000 emergency workers, television commercials, coastal sirens, buses, police officers, and public address systems blaring the same message on a loop, in local language, in very clear terms: ‘A cyclone is coming. Get to the shelters.’”

There is no IPAWS or equivalent in India. Instead, the government asks mobile carriers to send out messages on an ad hoc basis. There is also extensive use of WhatsApp, the messaging platform owned by Facebook. But mobile phone ownership averages less than 65% in India, vs. almost 100% in the US, so many of these messages may have started by phone, but were then passed by word of mouth to get to everyone. A friend of ours in India tells us that it’s common for people to pass important messages on to the people they know, both in person and by electronic means. 

Our key takeaway is simple: emergency alerts save lives. We also think it’s important to send those alerts as many ways as possible, and to provide consistent messaging to drive home what the risks are and what officials want the public to do. We continue to develop Hyper-Reach to enable sending messages in lots of ways (including social media, RSS, push and Internet messaging) and to encourage consistency in messaging, using templates. And we’ve got new things coming this year to help with all of that.