Social Science Research from the National Academies of Sciences Is a Key AWARN Resource
John M. Lawson, AWARN Alliance Executive Director
Creating advanced alerting is not just about engineering and bandwidth. It’s also about social science. Ultimately, the most elegant technology is only effective if people understand and respond to messages and take action to minimize danger. Later this year, the AWARN Alliance will be standing up user groups to create build on our alerting prototypes and create replicable templates and protocols. We hope to have social scientists at the table.
Earlier this year, I presented to the Committee on the Future of Emergency Alert and Warning Systems of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which met on the campus of the University of California, San Diego. The committee of distinguished academics and industry and public safety professionals is completing a report funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science & Technology Directorate. They will be recommending future research directions, and I was invited to brief them on AWARN and our research needs.
A major focus of the NAS committee has been the 90-character Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). According to a 2015 study by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), longer messages, as well as messages that change the traditional order that content is presented, are more effective. The study also investigated additional elements that could be included in a WEA. For a 280-characater mock WEA, adding apps and hyperlinks appeared beneficial, whereas adding maps, did not. Both elements “merit additional research.”
START’s and other social science research has examined alerting in what might be called an environment of “scarcity,” where bandwidth, and therefore, message content is limited. The problem of “milling,” in which people delay taking action because information is insufficient or unverified, is a well-documented alerting shortfall. We believe that geo-targeted, rich-media, and personalized AWARN Alerts can mitigate the problem of milling and improve alerting at many levels.
In my presentation to the Committee, I outlined some possible research areas in an environment of what I call rich-media “abundance” that could help us create the most effective AWARN alerts:
· Explore the social science of rich-media, interactive alerting
· Inventory rich-media assets of alert originators
· Align alert originator assets with ATSC 3.0 capabilities
· Drive latency out of the alerting chain and purpose AWARN for Earthquake Early Warnings.
We commend the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and their Committee on the Future of Emergency Alert and Warning Systems. I was honored to be invited to present to them. The past, current, and future work of this vital group will inform the work of the AWARN Alliance as we move beyond prototypes to actual next-generation alerts.