Did the national Emergency Alert System mistakenly play Lady Gaga?
FEMA sent out a live emergency alert notification that was supposed to be accompanied by a 'this is only a test' disclaimer Wednesday. The disclaimer did not always happen. Some observers said they heard a Lady Gaga song instead.
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The idea is to reach people who would not otherwise be watching television or listening to radio – a huge chunk of the American public. The goal of the new system is also to reach people across certain regions – or specific localities that may be threatened.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures US natural disasters of 2011
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But with all that technological ability to reach out to the public, there is a need to send the right message – one that provides plenty of information but does not engender fear – according to Emergency Alert System experts. Fear "immobilizes people," says Dennis Mileti former director of the Natural Hazards Research and Applications Information Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Any national emergency alert message must go farther, and in some way, actually "warn" the public of a specific threat, he and other experts say. Any warning must give the public actionable information on what they need to do, when they need to do it, and the authority behind the warning.
"Getting the message to you in your pocket ... [is] a great step toward the warning system the nation needs," Dr. Mileti says. "But we still need to understand that increasing the alerting is not actually the same as warning – unless people actually take protective measures."
According to Mileti, three decades of research clearly shows people don't respond to messages, no matter how imperative, unless they included the following:
- Provide authority for the message. Any warning must include a clear references on who is providing the message. If it is to be trusted and believed, it must be provided by a group of people, he says, not just one source. That's because there is no single credible source for all those people who may be at risk.
- Deliver over multiple, diverse, and different communications channels. One channel is insufficient for a warning. If it's just television, or just a cell phone warning, that's insufficient, he says. The first thing people do when confronted with a warning is to search for confirmation from other sources. If there is none, they don't take protective action, he says.
- Messages must be repeated frequently. People need to hear a warning many times before it gets into their heads. Getting the warning out once doesn't get the job done, Mileti says.
- Tell people what to do. The public must be told what protective action they need to take, when they need to take it, and when they should have completed that protective action. They need to know where to go and who should not go there.
- Explain why protective action must be taken. Telling what the hazard is, and what the consequences are from exposure to the hazard is essential, Mileti says. But don't get carried away. Don't create fear. "If you create fear, you immobilize human beings," Mileti says. Keep it fact based.
- Keep the message simple. Warnings need to be worded precisely and be unambiguous, accurate, and authoritative.
- Do not broadcast contradictory messages. Warnings need to be consistent internally and externally, Mileti says. "Nothing like: 'Our local nuclear power plant just cracked open and radiation is going across the countryside – but don't worry.' "
IN PICTURES: US natural disasters of 2011
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