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Obstacles to timely emergency messaging for acute incidents

Jeremy Bernfeld, MPS, CEM


Emergency alerts, warnings, and notifications (AWN) help protect the public by communicating information about impending hazards to encourage protective actions. Three key subsystems compose AWN systems: (1) detection; (2) management; and (3) response. While much research regarding the detection and response subsystems exists, few studies focus on the management subsystem. This subsystem involves emergency managers (EM) receiving and analyzing information about a hazard, deciding whether the hazard poses enough risk to warrant an emergency message, and where appropriate, transmitting that message across available AWN systems. To help improve understanding of this decision-making process, the researcher conducted interviews with EMs responsible for AWN decision-making and issuance, and leveraged participant responses to inform this work. This study details the threat interpretation, organization, technology, and infrastructure limitations that can directly delay or prevent AWN issuance. This work also outlines the adverse impacts on the public, EMs, and emergency services that can follow an AWN, as EMs must weigh these consequences when deciding to issue an emergency message. By outlining these obstacles, this study aims to help inform EMs of the challenges they may face during the critical moments of an incident, so they may better prepare to issue timely emergency messages to protect their communities. The findings gleaned from this research can also help technologists and social scientists better understand the influences their fields have on the EM, so that they may improve upon existing AWN systems and risk communication strategies.


emergency, alert, warning, notification, timely, early, barriers, obstacles, challenges

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