Research Needs and Implementation Challenges
The following sections outline research opportunities and associated implementation challenges identified by attendees of the workshop. The opportunities and challenges compiled here by the committee from presentations and discussions at the workshop do not reflect a consensus of the committee or the workshop participants, nor are they intended to be a comprehensive list of research questions.
FACILITATING AND IMPROVING PUBLIC RESPONSE
While there are decades of research on public response to traditional alert and warning technologies, less is known about how the public may respond when new technologies are used for alerts and warnings. As noted in Chapter 1, much research is currently being done to answer several of the questions around public response, including the following:
• What are the opportunities for optimizing message content, structure, and alert delivery systems?
• To what extent could more precise geotargeted alerts and warnings reduce mortality, morbidity, human suffering, and other costs associated with disasters?
• How can better communication of locations at risk and appropriate protective actions for each location help reduce delay in recipients’ taking protective actions, for example, because less time is spent seeking additional or confirming information or milling?
• What are opt-out rates and causes? Would more tailored opt-out options reduce the opt-out rate? For example, would allowing people to opt in or out of specific categories or sources of warnings help? If so, is there an optimal level of granularity for such selections? How can people be encouraged to opt back in?
• For a given alerting system, what is the most effective repetition frequency for messages and the most effective update interval during an extended emergency? Does this depend on the nature of the hazard or message?
• How can one determine the effectiveness of the alerts or warnings issued during an event? Can the effectiveness of particular messages or systems be measured directly? If not, are there indirect indications that can be used to gauge effectiveness?
VALUE OF GEOTARGETED INFORMATION
Geotargeted information can be presented in several ways: for example, text that includes a place name (e.g., city, county, or zip code), a map that clearly delineates the affected area, a map that shows the affected area and includes the location of the message recipient, or some combination of these. Open research questions regarding the display and presentation of geotargeted information include the following:
• How would using multiple approaches to communicate geotargeted alerts and warnings enhance personalization of risk and subsequent public protective action response? What combinations of text and maps would best motivate recipients to take protective action?
• Does the content of the message—for example, the hazard being warned about or the protective action being urged—play a role in which presentation method is best?
• Given that targeting and sending messages to recipients in unnecessarily large geographic areas can lead to frustration and opting out, what is the most effective size of geotargeting boundaries?
• If maps are incorporated into alerts, what is the most effective method to represent, transmit, and display them? For example, should the maps be represented as raster or vector images? What image size and resolution are best? What level of compression is needed? Should messages contain the maps themselves or just links (e.g., URLs) to the maps?
• How will map literacy in the general populace affect public response? Will map literacy need to be incorporated into disaster education?
• What are the most effective design and visualization principles for geotargeted alerts? Which map symbols, scales, labels, and point of inter-
ests would be most effective? Should a standardized set of map symbols for displaying various disaster scenarios be developed?
• What can be learned and applied to alerting tools by examining the use and innovations of mobile and location-based advertising?
• How can geotargeted messages be made more accessible, especially for individuals with disabilities?
DEVELOPING AND DEPLOYING TECHNOLOGY
Communication technologies have greatly evolved in the past decade and will continue to evolve. While much of this innovation is driven by non-disaster response sectors, these technologies will inevitably shift how best to communicate with the public during disasters. Research gaps concerning the use of new technologies include:
• How can new technologies developed by the private sector be adapted quickly and effectively for delivering geotargeted alerts and warnings? What is the role of the third-party developers (e.g., smartphone applications) in delivering geotargeted alerts and warnings?
• What respective roles will special-purpose alert and warning systems (e.g., WEA or NWR) and general-purpose messaging systems (e.g., SMS or social media) play in delivering alerts and warnings to the public? What are the benefits and challenges of each type of alert system? How do they complement each other?
• What legal, regulatory, technology standard, or other barriers stand in the way of rapidly deploying new technology for delivering alerts and warnings?
• How can the gap between what is understood about public response and the technology available for delivering alerts be closed?
• How do new technologies and public use of these technologies affect network traffic?
• What is the future role of sensors within an alerting system?
• WEA is currently limited to text only. What additional technologies are needed to extend WEA to include either images or links to maps?
• As recipients receive messages on their various computing and mobile devices, they may wish to forward those messages to others via text or email or to social media sites. Additionally, they may want to simply link to additional information. How can these capabilities be incorporated in alerting systems? What strategies and techniques can be used to decrease bandwidth requirements?
• How can existing systems and new technologies incorporate the needs of at-risk populations, including those with physical or mental disabilities?
RESPECTING PRIVACY AND MEETING SECURITY NEEDS
Concerns over privacy are prevalent in discussions surrounding the use of mobile devices and the use of geolocation information.
• Users make privacy trade-offs frequently. They enjoy the use of a particular mobile application that may share their location information with others, often without explicit consent. If more explicit consent is needed for applications to share information, do users have the knowledge to make this decision?
• How can alerting systems be designed up front to incorporate privacy and security concerns (versus trying to incorporate privacy and safety considerations after the system is designed, or worse, after it is deployed)?
• What is the likelihood that concerns about negative public relations or apprehensiveness regarding government regulation will discourage developers from incorporating geolocation information into emerging technologies?
FACILITATING AND ENCOURAGING USE BY PRACTITIONERS
Ultimately, practitioners at various levels of government decide how and when to send an alert. Clear guidelines may be required to encourage more and appropriate use of new systems. Additional questions include the following:
• What are possible incentives for emergency managers to experiment with the use of new alerting systems and geotargeted alerts and warnings? What are the major constraints that limit adoption by local practitioners?
• What policy framework would help encourage the use of new technologies for alerting by practitioners?
• What are useful ways to involve more practitioners in technology and system design and decision-making processes?