About once a week we find a message on warn.pbs.org that is clearly incomplete in both the 90 and 360 character WEA fields. But if you read a little further down, you’ll often find a beautifully written message that is included in the field called “Description.”
In the case of these two WEAs, posted for a natural gas leak, we see that the original and updated messages contain what appears to be a headline containing no actionable information.
The description field for the original message includes the following complete message:
Natural Gas Leak Little Chute. At the order of Fox Valley Metro Police.
Evacuate within a one block radius around the intersection of Madison
Street and West McKinley Avenue in Little Chute and avoid the area
until the situation is resolved.
Notably, the message writer did well by including the name of the hazard, the source, the guidance, the location, and time. They just didn’t include it in the right place.
This could have been a really big and really bad problem if people within the evacuation area put themselves in harms way because they didn’t get a complete message through WEA or some other channel, such as opt-in messaging, social media, or reverse-911. Furthermore, because it was an order (intended to legally compel people), it raises additional questions about how to address those who do not comply.
The event did end; a second message was sent as an “update” and once more, you can find information in the Description field. This time, the message says
*UPDATE* Natural Gas Leak Little Chute.
ALL CLEAR. You may return to your homes
The content contained in the Description of these two WEAs would have been quite handy for residents, businesses, and others at the time of the event. It takes time and effort to learn the intricacies of the software that allows an Alerting Originator to connect with IPAWS. And we recognize that some of the platforms are really confusing to use But it becomes even more important to invest in training and exercises using those platforms when we see mistakes like these.
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