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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Punctuation matters

WEA issued for a missing person

We don't frequently edit non-warning messages, but given that missing person messages are issued through IPAWS and WEA, they're fair game for a comment every now and then. And this comment is to point out the importance of clear communication and punctuation.

In this message, the hazard appears to be a Silver Alert on foot. Or, perhaps there is a Silver Alert, and the person is on foot. Let's assume that it's a Silver Alert and SHE is on foot. Why she? Because it is Susan Lane, of course!

Nope, wrong. Susan Lane is the name of the street located in Green Bay WI. The missing person is Thomas Van Lanen. Who is on foot somewhere around Susan Lane in Green Bay, WI.

Phew. Confusing. You'd be more confused if you got only the 90-character message, which says "Silver Alert on foot Susan Lane, Green Bay, WI [url.twitter]"

Punctuation matters. Sentence construction matters. When these confusing elements are included in a message, we have to work harder to communicate effectively but message receivers have to work even harder to try to understand your message.

If we use clear language to communicate the hazard equivalent (Missing Person) followed by a description of the person (over the age of 65... name... clothing) and the location (last seen on Susan Lane in Green Bay, WI) at a particular time (5:00 am, or similar), we build a message that helps people to understand what the message is about without using technical jargon like "silver alert."

Honestly, as we see more alert types for missing and endangered populations of different vulnerabilities, this is going to become even more important. Who will know the difference between an amber alert, silver alert, gold alert, blue alert, camo alert, etc. without studying and understanding their significance in the WEA landscape?

Maybe we can choose a common way to communicate these notifications that draws from good research in the future. In the meantime, punctuation and sentence construction matters.  


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