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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Actionable, local, missing persons alerts

The focus of alerts and warnings have primarily centered on natural, technological, biological, and human induced hazards that are threats to the population. WEA, however, is also used to alert local communities about more than just community-wide threats. It is also used to ask people to help law enforcement to engage in various community-based activities.


Those who observe pbs.warn on a regular basis will see that notifications are frequently issued requesting help from the community to locate missing persons. They will also notice that these messages are largely incomplete, filled with jargon, and difficult to act on.


The message shared here, represents a different kind of missing persons alert: it is actionable.


alert about a missing person

This message follows the best practices of the Warning Response Model, which is used to define the content, structure, and style of alert and warning messages for imminent threats and other public safety messaging. Here, we find a complete message that provides clear information about the person who is missing and instructions on how to help law enforcement complete their task of finding the missing person. Let's take a look.


Source: Tuscaloosa Co. S.O. and TCSO (S.O. is sheriff's office, for those who are unfamiliar with this acronym. TCSO is the full source acronym. I suspect acronyms were used to save characters in a 360-character message)


Hazard/threat: in this case, there is no hazard, but there is a SUBJECT of the message, which is the missing 73-year old black male.


Subject description: the person's name, physical description, clothing as well as how the subject is traveling (on foot, or, walking)


Location: last seen on Henderson Rd.


Time: time and date when subject was last seen is included


Guidance: If you see him, call


It's possible that adding a link with an image might help people to identify W.C. if they see him around town. But absent that additional visual content, this message provides clear and actionable information. It is significantly different from most missing person messages that we find on pbs.warn and serves as an example of how to do it well.


For more recommended contents, be sure to download The Warning Lexicon - it's free and offers step-by-step instructions on how to write a better warning message.

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