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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Be On The Lookout... help us search

idle alert telling people to be on the lookout

There are many ways to indicate to a community that there is a need to help find a missing person. Risk communicators can choose to use "law enforcement" language - such as "BE ON THE LOOK OUT," or BOLO, or use plain language and ask for help.

Readers may say about this post "but isn't 'be on the look out' a request for help? Isn't that clear and plain language that can motivate people to engage in community-wide assistance?" Not really, no.

Researchers Bean and Hasinoff write about actionable alerts and idle alerts. Actionable alerts provide clear and active instructions that can be taken in response to a threat. Idle alerts, in contrast, do not ask message receivers to change their actions, just their awareness. To "be on the lookout" does not direct people to do something different, just to be aware. It invites people to remain idle.

The messages here represent an interesting combination of idle and actionable content. First, the sender says "be on the lookout" and then provides an action statement "please check." Notably, the initial message is followed by additional information about forming a search team about an hour later.

The instructions "please check" informs the community that help is needed. It is plain language and even tells people where to look. This is actionable messaging.

Now for a few additional comments about these messages. It would be useful for the sender to indicate who is issuing these messages (what is MCEM or NMFD?) and to provide the direct link to the Facebook page where an image can be found as well as the address of the NMFD where searchers can gather. The second message appears to follow a conventional text message format; it is written as though the audience is already part of the initial conversation and lacks any information about the source, location, victim/suspect, or time.

In this case, both messages rallied the town as people came out to help. The missing child was soon found safe at home.

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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