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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Be prepared to evacuate for flooding

Some hazards, like hurricanes, wildfires, and atmospheric rivers, offer risk communicators the gift of time to prepare their constituents for what may be coming to their area and how they can get themselves ready to respond. Wireless Emergency Alerts have been used primarily for events that are certain, specific, and imminent. In the case of an atmospheric river that will certainly affect narrow geographical areas in particular ways, it makes a great deal of sense to use WEA for preparation as well as advising immediate life-safety action.

a flood message advising people to be prepared to evacuate

We have see the use of the words "evacuation warning" and "evacuation order" in WEAs across the country and they can be very confusing to those who are unfamiliar with the technical language. In the case of evacuation warning - it is a warning that an evacuation will be ordered. The associated actions are to prepare for the order. In the case of an evacuation order, the order is to evacuate immediately. The associated action is to leave the area and to not return until it is safe to do so. Evacuation orders cannot be enforced even though they are issued with an authoritative voice.

Evacuation warning and evacuation order must be accompanied by additional details to be meaningful to message receivers (barring some public education that is conducted ahead of time). It is possible to use plain language in its place, reducing the need for message receivers to know the trigger language and what it means.

In this case, we see a message from the City of San Jose that is advising their population to prepare to evacuate. The source of the message is stated (it could also be that this is the location of the threat and not the message sender). They identify the hazard (potential flooding and rapidly changing water levels), the time (early morning 2/4/2024) and the location (near Guadalupe River at Alma Ave). The guidance is clear (be prepared to evacuate if needed) and a link is provided to direct people to additional information about the storm and about evacuation preparedness.

Because the State of California has begun to require the use of evacuation warning/evacuation order language for consistency, it's reassuring to see the use of plain language in a message that is sent in advance to clearly indicate the areas at greatest risk. Rather than relying on technical legalese that is inconsistent with its common use (see NWS use of the word "warning" - it does not mean to prepare, it means to take action), the City of San Jose has opted to employ language that doesn't require additional knowledge to understand what is being communicated.

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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