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Focus groups yield insight into complacency in emergency situations

To better understand the actions people take – or choose not to take – in emergency situations, START’s Risk Communication and Resilience team recently conducted interviews across the Southeastern United States. The research team turned to focus groups to evaluate how tornado warnings and false alarms factor into complacency and how emergency managers might better work with the public and communicate more effectively.

Findings from the focus groups are summarized in a new infographic and include:

  • Though participants understood what “shelter in place” meant, they indicated they might not take protective action unless they knew a tornado was an immediate threat;
  • Participants recommended that emergency managers use more directive language in warnings; and
  • Participants had a clear preference for local meteorologists as the primary source for information on tornadoes.

The focus groups are part of the “Understanding Tornado Warnings, False Alarms, and Complacency, and Proposing Theory-Directed Solutions for Effective Warnings” project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The project is led by Dr. Michael Egnoto and Dr. Brooke Liu, and seeks to understand how complacency and false alarms about weather emergencies impact tornado awareness in an effort to reduce this risk by improving communication strategies. A false alarm occurs when a warning is issued for an expected hazard (such as a tornado), but that hazard never materializes.