In our recent post – “Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Severe Weather Alerts” – we talked a little about how to structure an emergency notification message. We’d like to expand on this topic.
According to Dr. Dennis Mileti, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, a successful warning message should include these five components (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/159069):
- Source: who the message is from;
- Hazard: the threat and its impacts;
- Location: the impact area boundaries described in a way that can be easily understood (for example: street names, landmarks, natural features and political boundaries);
- Guidance (Protective Action)/Time: what protective action to take, when to do it, how to do it, and how doing it reduces impacts;
- Expiration time: when the alert/warning expires and/or new information will be received.
Through our emergency notification experience, we’ve discovered that message style is also very important. A successful notification message should:
- be brief but impactful: simple and straight to the point.
- use simple language: avoid jargon and technical language. It must be easy to understand for all residents of your community regardless of their age and occupation.
- include a picture and/or a source for more details or updates.
In contrast, sending out an inappropriate message could cause results that are completely opposite to what you intended. Instead of helping people to avoid/escape an emergency, a badly worded message may create unnecessary panic or inaction.
To help insure a good message structure, it’s useful to have some ready templates that you can use as a starting point when writing a warning message. Which is why Hyper-Reach offers the ability to create saved message templates, and is improving that capability. Templates can not only save you time but also will serve as a good quality control practice, avoiding inconsistencies and mistakes.
Although current IPAWS/WEA messages are limited to 90 characters, it’s still possible to cover the most important information with IPAWS/WEA and supplement with other messaging methods. So if you have a modern Emergency Notification system such as Hyper-Reach in place, you can send out not only 90-character WEA messages but also more detailed text messages, emails, Facebook and Twitter posts.
Recent changes to FCC rules for WEA are also helpful. For one, you can now include a URL in a WEA message, which allows for a link to a page with much more detail. And the FCC has changed the rules about WEA message length – although they won’t take effect until next year – increasing to 360 characters.
Summarizing our recommendations above, we’ve prepared some efficient templates for 90-character WEA messages and 160-character SMS messages that you can use and model your own messages on. You can download them here.
If you have other types of messages you’d like us to template, please let us know. You can send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.