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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

Surf's UP, but stay OUT.

high surf warning and flood advisory

There's a lot of good things to say about this message sent by the Office of Response, Recovery, and Resilience; but there are also a few things that are clearly missing or potentially unclear to the prospective message receiver. Let's start at the top.


At The Warn Room, we advocate that messages follow a consistent format: source, hazard, location, guidance, time. We also advocate for the use of ALL CAPS to draw visual attention to key words/actions, and to spell out words or names that could be abbreviated or turned into acronyms. These recommendations following the Warning Response Model that is backed by empirical research and 30 years of findings.


The message posted for this surf warning/flood advisory follows this order: guidance, source, hazard, time, location, guidance. It capitalizes the first set of guidance. It does not use acronyms. Some of the content is vague (time is indicated by the words "in effect" and "throughout the day"; location is "beaches and low-lying coastal areas") Most of the content that is needed is present, but it can be improved. We've offered some suggestions below.



Revised surf warning and flood advisory

Here we reorganized the content to follow the recommended order (source, hazard [time], location, guidance, information). We also replaced the office name with the County that issued the message (we advise that writers select an organization that is familiar to message receivers - the name of the county signifies a type of authority that an un-affiliated office will not). This is followed by the two threats in CAPs and make a suggestion for including the date/time here. The hazard description follows, and includes impact: threat to life and property. The primary action is in CAPS (AVOID) and we add a URL to get more information.


Of note: having a surfer in my own family I'm not sure that a high surf warning would keep them away from the beach. Adding the "threat to life" statement signifies that these are not just big waves, but they may be dangerous and potentially un-surf-able.


We'd also like to call attention to the problem of using both "warning" and "advisory" in this message. Researchers have found that these words represent technical language used by experts and they aren't intuitive or meaningful for message receivers. In fact, NWS is working on simplifying the language used to indicate dangerous meteorological conditions and will likely eliminate the word "advisory" in the near future. Risk communication should watch for those changes coming soon.



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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