Exit sign - photo credit: Acarlos1000

Exit sign – photo credit: Acarlos1000

Access to timely alert and warning information is crucial during an emergency incident. Given that there are over 100 million smartphone subscribers in the U.S., the introduction of the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS), also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), means more people will receive valuable and relevant information during an emergency. While CMAS currently is available only in English, it has been noted that in order to reach more people, alerts and warnings need to expand into other languages.

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What Does Google Public Alerts Teach Us?

On February 29, 2012, in General, by with SRA International

Google Public Alerts and Its Features Out of the Box

You may recall that on January 25, 2012, the Google Crisis Response (GCR) team at Google.org launched the Google Public Alerts (GPA) platform.  GPA aggregates weather, public safety, and earthquake alerts from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS), and the US Geological Survey (USGS) and displays the alerts on Google Maps Figure 1. Continue reading »

The Need for Common Terminology

On November 2, 2010, in Alerts & Warnings 101, General, by with SRA International

While there is some degree of consistency in the use of terminology, there is still work needed in this area as the terms “alert”, “warning” and “notification” are used interchangeably.

A popular school of thought that seems to be well accepted considers an alert to be the initial message to grab the public’s attention, and the warning as a message which provides more information about the event. Denis Mileti, a recognized social scientist, uses the following definitions in his presentations on the topic:

  • Alerting – getting people’s attention
  • Informing – telling people about the pending disaster
  • Warning – telling people what to do and why

The term notification seems to span across all three definitions given its use in “mass notification systems” and “campus notifications”. Meanwhile, NOAA uses the term warning if the “…event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurring”; it issues a watch “…if the risk has increased significantly…but its occurrence, location, and/or timing is still uncertain.”

In the international community, early warning is used consistently for alerting in instances of imminent and short term concerns. However, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) considers early warning to include issues which take much longer to develop and may be better identified as “emerging environmental threats.”

However, the most critical area for consideration is standardization of message content – state and local alerting systems differ in how they develop and define alert messages.   As one example, some messages may use “remain in place”, while others may use “shelter in place”, causing confusion for the public.

I welcome comments and other insights.

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