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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Source, Hazard Description, Location, and Time: the importance of a complete message

Actionable alert and warning messages should contain 5 elements: the source, hazard (plus description), location, actionable guidance, and time. This is the content that, when included in a complete message, increases the likelihood that people will be motivated to act. When dangerous conditions are emerging and action is necessary, providing a complete and clear message is extremely important.


In the example message to the right, we see an alert that is presented in ALL CAPS, making it extremely difficult to read and eliminating any potential to call attention to key words such as the hazard and the recommended actions. We should also notice what is missing: the source, the hazard and description, the location, and the time. We can guess about the protective actions (don't burn) but that's about it. How can this be improved?


We took a look at the additional content that is included in a WEA on the PBS.WARN site to see that the message was issued by Hamilton County, TN and the area of impact. Beyond that, we took a few liberties with the message to incoprorate more context about the conditions that raised the concern about burning and we also made some assumptions that there is an organization within Hamilton County that focuses on air pollution.


We present a complete message on the left to name for the hazards (high winds and wildfire danger) along with information about the burn ban itself. Because we know that the burn ban is likely to be in place for a specified period of time and then updated later, we've also included a placeholder for [date/time]. By using ALL CAPS for specific words, we help to draw the reader's attention to the dangers and the actions that are most important for this threat.


The entire message follows the guidance that can be found in The Warning Lexicon, which is free to download at the Natural Hazards Review. Try it yourself!


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