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Kasey Alert, Ashanti Alert, Ebony Alert: making missing persons alerts meaningful

 a Kasey Alert for a missing person

When we look across the country today, we find there are a LOT of named alerts for missing persons. Each one represents a different sector of the population, addressing a particular age, race, or mental or physical disability. With a few exceptions, each named alert is localized to the state in which it was passed as a law to protect that population. This presents an interesting problem for alerting authorities in individual states and for publics who may be unfamiliar with various types of missing persons across the U.S. One solution to the problem is to approach it using plain language.

The National Archives states that "plain language is clear, concise, organized, and appropriate for the intended audience." The emphasize that writers write for the reader, not for themselves and to use everyday words that are familiar to others. In the case of a named missing person alert, such as a Kasey Alert, the messenger is losing the battle of communicating effectively at the outset if they are trying to make a meaningful point about who or what type of person is missing. (In this case, Kasey Alerts are for missing adults in the state of Oklahoma). Without significant public education to bring awareness to a type of missing person, such as what has been done with decades of outreach on AMBER alerts, named alerts may result in more questions than answers.

There are a few suggestions about how to improve the message above. When applying the Warning Response Model (WRM) we see that the message is missing information about the message source and time; it also uses an acronym that may be unfamiliar (YOA = years of age). The listing of the missing person as a 13 year old also suggests some external inconsistency with the Kasey Alert law that is for missing adults.

The Warning Response Model would suggest that a shift to plain language for missing persons alert is a strategy that will increase message understanding and, potentially, make them more actionable. 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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