You may recall that several weeks ago I talked about the three critical elements of an emergency message. I said that any message had to have three elements: what has happened, what does it mean to the recipient, and the action that you wanted the recipient ent to take. I'd like to expand on that with the benefit of some new research.
I'm just back from the Natural Hazards Workshop in Broomfield, Colorado, where I had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Dennis Mileti speak. Dr. Mileti is professor emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder and former director of the Natural Hazards Center. His book, Disasters by Design, summarized scientific and engineering knowledge about natural hazards and made recommendations for national policies and programs. It is considered a "must read" for new emergency managers. Mileti is also considered a national expert on risk communication and public warning.
Dr. Mileti's latest research suggests that not only is the content of the message important, the order in which elements are presented can also affect how the recipient perceives the message. Dr. Mileti believes that it is important that the message be seen as coming from a credible source. For this reason, he suggests that the first element in a message should be the identity of the sender. Mileti advises that an emergency message follow this format:
- the source of the message
- a description of the hazard, i.e. what has happened and what it means to the recipient
- what actions the recipient needs to take
In his research, Mileti found that messages presented in this format were significantly more likely to be acted upon.