It may come as little surprise that WEA is frequently used by law enforcement to issue alerts for missing and endangered persons (MEP). Outside of the messages sent by the National Weather Service for severe weather events, these types of messages are seen most often (along with road closures). Setting aside concerns about perceptions of over-alerting, a few changes can be made to improve MEP messaging in order to make them more understandable and actionable.
Drawing from research on the use of JARGON we know that words and terminology used by organizations will represent concepts that are familiar to insiders who have the training to understand the threat, risk level, and actions necessary when they see or hear a particular word. We also know that the public can be trained to understand JARGON. See, for example, the long-standing campaign to educate people about AMBER alerts, which signifies a missing and endangered child. The extent to which newly implemented MEP alerts have been socialized is much lower, leaving many people to wonder "what's a silver alert? what's a gold alert? what's an ebony alert? what's a blue alert?" etc. etc.
Plain language advocates will advise that message senders lean away from the use of this kind of technical language that triggers a specific response from experts, such as law enforcement personnel, who are trained to perform their jobs in a specific manner when this kind of alert is received.
What can we do instead? With this example, let's start by explaining that the person of interest is MISSING. And that they may be ENDANGERED if they are not found and helped to safety. We might also add details about HOW TO HELP, such as "call XXX."
Fortunately, the link to social media offered additional details including an image of the endangered person. It was also later edited to share that he was found and returned safely home.
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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