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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

The JARGON style of wildfire messaging

Two WEAs issued for wildfire on 7/21/23

Clearly, alert and warning writers are neck deep in technical jargon when talking about IPAWS, alert originators, 360 and 90 WEAs, etc. We use language that is relevant to our community to say more using fewer words. Sometimes this carries into messaging to the public. Take for instance, the messages here about wildfire.

While we couldn't find an original message issued about a SET STATUS, we can assume that the community received an alert about this previously and now they are being told that this has been canceled but they should remain ready. I'm betting that if this is for wildfire, they will be relying on environmental cues to tell them because the message certainly does not. Missing from the first message in information about the sender (assume it is from the Sheriff's Office), the location (assume it is Cochise County), the time, and the hazard (wildfire?). We can make some assumptions about what people are to do - return to the area, but also get ready.

The second message was issued to notify people that they are now in a "Go Status" and the guidance is to EVACUATE NOW. The location is included and we can assume the message comes from the Sheriff's Office in Cochise County. Again, the clear articulation about the actual threat is missing, but we can assume, again, that environmental cues will fill in this gap.

Recent research conducted on the inclusion/exclusion of the name of the hazard led to findings about receivers' message understanding: (without the name of the hazard, the understanding goes down. But the real kicker is that organizational trust and credibility also goes down: yes, you read that correctly - when the name of the hazard is not included, people will trust your organization less. Whoops!

Wildfire is clearly a complicated and challenging hazard to alert for. And using a staged approach to alerting may be vital to saving some lives. But can't we do that while also clearly articulating what they are cancelling, getting ready, or evacuating for? The use of jargon may make it simpler for a fire fighter to communicate among insider populations, but it doesn't make it easer for outsiders to understand.

Bonus: In both messages, the receiver is told to go to a Facebook Page to get updates and further instructions. This is an excellent suggestion and a way to keep people updated between messages. WEAs can include URLs, so save people some time and just add that information in for them to click on.


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