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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Is it time to talk about WEA policy?


Alerts sent on 3/10/23 to West Hollywood, followed by all of L.A. County


The Warn Room resources and commentary have been primarily focused on imminent threat alerting; we draw from theory and empirical research to guide the review, analysis, and comments about warnings shared via WEA. But as a WEA observer (see warn.pbs.org), it is clear that most WEAs are issued for two kinds of events: weather (sent by NWS WFOs) and missing persons (sometimes sent by the NCMEC and sometimes sent by local alerting authorities). It is this second kind of event that raises some concerns. As of last count (fall 2022) there were more than 45 non-weather "color" and missing person-type alerts that have been developed and issued at the state level across the U.S. Currently, there is no consistency between states and no federal policy or recommendations to guide the issuance of these message types. When messages such as those posted here are issued with limited content, direct people to a social media account, and vary the geographical footprint for each message, one cannot help but wonder if the attempt to notify millions of people about a single endangered missing person is also doing damage to peoples' tolerance for WEA messages. WEAs are disruptive at a level that most alerts are not - they are delivered to personal cellular devices through a channel that has not been opted into. This suggests that those who issue WEAs ought to be taking into consideration that their ability to intrude into the personal lives of others should not be taken for granted and messages ought not be issued without a great deal of forethought. There is much to say about the moral imperative to save a life as well as the political nature of these messages, but the question we have at The Warn Room is whether this use of WEA is going to cost more lives in the long run as people choose to opt out and disable future alerts. Is it time to talk policy?

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