August 27, 2012
START researchers awarded nearly $1 million to improve effectiveness of emergency alert text messaging
First-of-its-kind study to test messages via mobile devices
BY NICHOLAS MUNSON
Researchers from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) have been awarded nearly $1 million to determine the most effective way to communicate imminent threats to the public via text messaging on mobile devices.
Funded by the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), this first-of-its-kind project will help authorities keep communities safe by investigating how to best alert people to immediate dangers such as hurricanes or terrorist attacks.
The project, “Comprehensive Testing of Imminent Threat Public Messages for Mobile Devices,” aims to give theoretically grounded and empirically tested guidance on the contents of warning messages primarily dispatched through the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS). CMAS alerts can be sent to any CMAS-enabled mobile device and deliver information to warn the public about emergencies where life or property is at risk and some responsive action should be taken.
“Now that we can literally put warnings into people’s pockets, the challenge becomes determining what to say and how to say it to motivate the public to take appropriate protective actions,” said START researcher Brooke Fisher Liu, the principal investigator of the project.
The research team will write prototype messages of varying lengths about threats ranging from climatological events, such as heat waves and hail, to acts of terrorism, such as a nuclear detonation or anthrax release. The messages will include the alert of the event, as well as information on what actions should be taken.
These messages will be reviewed by warning alert experts and policymakers during a one-day workshop in the D.C. metro area in November. Then, after sending the messages to a large-scale national sample, the researchers will analyze how the public understands and responds to short-text alert messages (90 characters or less) and longer-text alert messages.
“We hope to arm emergency managers with easily understood messages that can be dispatched at a moment’s notice to help inform and protect the public from imminent threats,” Liu said.