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  • Writer's picturejeannettesutton

What is the hazard and why should I follow your advice?


an advisement message about drinking water

Before posting this WEA to the Warning Gallery, the editors tried to revise the message, but were stumped. Without significant effort to figure out WHY this message had been issued to residents of these areas, we were forced to simply BELIEVE that there must be some sort of problem with the water. What kind of problem, we don't know. But it sure sounds like it could be dangerous to injest, wear, or wash with. What could it be?!


This is the problem with sending messages that instruct people to take an action without also clearly explaining what hazardous condition they are responding to. It is frequently seen in messages stating "evacuation warning" or "shelter in place" without naming the hazard. When receiveing this message, we have a few alternatives - believe a message from what looks like the City of Sunland Park; look for more information from somewhere online or within personal networks, perhaps by googling "CRRUA" and hoping that their webpage or social media is up to date; ignore the message and go about their day. Perhaps there are other ways to manage this message, but they probably aren't the ways that the sender intended.


This is why it is so important to include all five of the relevant contents that are necessary for motivating protective action. Those are:

SOURCE - A known, authoritative, reputable sender

HAZARD AND IMPACT - the name of the threat and the consequences it could have on populations or locations

LOCATION - whare or on whom is the threat going to affect

TIME - when the hazard is occurring, when a person should take action, or when the message will expire/be updated

GUIDANCE - what people should do to protect themselves.


These are all described in the Warning Response Model (WRM).


Messages should also be complete, clear (not including technical language or jargon, nor using abbreviations that may be unknown to message receivers - such as CRRUA), certain (no hedging of "advising" language), and accurate.


This message, misses the mark in several areas that are important to message receivers. To improve, they could clearly state the name of the message sender, explain the hazardous condition that prompted the "do not drink" advisement, and use more certain language about following the instructions that are provided. Offer a website address for more information would be a helpful addition as well.


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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