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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Burn Bans and the importance of a complete message

an alert about a burn ban

Burn bans are issued when there is an increased risk of wildfire. In an analysis of all wildfire WEAs sent from January 2020- April 2022, language about burn bans in effect was found in only three of the 642 messages issued as 360-character WEAs. In the case of this message sent in November 2023, the burn ban was applied to all open-air fires (applied to specific types of materials) and fireworks and would be enforced through the application of fines. Given Sevier county's experience with significant wildfire, the use of WEA to alert people to heightened risk is likely to demonstrate some organizational credibility for effective management.

Based upon the Warning Response Model, we can assess that this message is fairly complete; it includes the source, hazard, location, and guidance, plus an link for more information. The use of "immediately" and "until further notice" suggests that the receiver would know what time the message was issued; it also suggests that a follow up message wil be provided to inform the public that the wildfire risk has been reduced and the burn ban is no longer being enforced.

Communicating timing information has been a challenging variable of warning content. When WEA was first introduced, time was limited to information about message expiration. This was modeled after the practices of the National Weather Service, where message products would be updated after a set length of time. Today WEAs incorporate time as when a threat begins/ends; when actions begin/end; when a message begins/ends. This suggests that there are a lot of ways to incorporate time!

In the case of this burn ban message, a simple way to incorporate time is to add the time/date to the hazard description "a burn ban is in effect at 10:53 CST on 11/7" and then follow up with more information at a later date.

What suggestions do you have on the way to improve time information in a WEA?

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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