2023 has included a number if significant chemical releases associated with train derailments. While the East Palenstine, OH event received significant national attention, a more recent multicar train derailment in Rockcastle County, KY led to a chemical spill and fire, prompting evacuations across the city of Livingston.
A Wireless Emergency Alert was quickly issued to recommend that persons in the city of Livingston and surrounding areas evacuate. Law Enforcement also went door to door, alerting people to the danger and motivating them to leave immediately. Notably, the population of Livingstone is approximately 200 persons.
This message provides clear information about the direction travelers should take to leave the area. Missing is an explanation of what might occur from the derailment (fire? explosion? chemical release?), the message source (Rockcastle County?), and the time of the event. It also isn't clear if the "evacuation recommended" is a suggestion for people to consider or a polite way of insisting that people move quickly to get out of harms way. This is where the backup plan of door to door alerting becomes a key to motivating people to move.
Researchers have shown that warning messages need to deliver clear and actionable information to motivate people to act quickly. Words like "recommended" leave room for uncertainty and individual interpretation, where message confirmation can delay action. However, researchers have also shown that social cues - getting a message from your neighbors and persons you trust - are also highly motivating. Thus, door to door alerting serves as a back up plan AND a secondary strategy to motivate people to act.
Emergency managers are natural planners who build in redundancy for various contingencies. Do you have redundancy in your local alerting plan?
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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