AND WARNING SYSTEMS
CURRENT KNOWLEDGE AND FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
Committee on the Future of
Emergency Alert and Warning Systems:
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
A Consensus Study Report of
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Support for this project was provided by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, with assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services under award number HHSP233201400020B. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
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Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions. The National Academies Press, Washington, DC. doi: https://doi.org/10.17226/24935.
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COMMITTEE ON THE FUTURE OF EMERGENCY ALERT AND WARNING SYSTEMS: RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
RAMESH RAO, University of California San Diego, Chair
JAMES CAVERLEE, Texas A&M University
ROOP DAVE, Information Technology Research Academy, New Delhi
EVE GRUNTFEST, California Polytechnic State University
BROOKE LIU, University of Maryland
LESLIE LUKE, Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management
DENNIS MILETI, University of Colorado, Boulder
NAMBIRAJAN SESHADRI, Broadcom Corporation (retired)
DOUGLAS SICKER, Carnegie Mellon University
KATE STARBIRD, University of Washington
CHARLES L. WERNER, ParadeRest and Commonwealth of Virginia
JON EISENBERG, Director, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
VIRGINIA BACON TALATI, Program Officer
KATIRIA ORTIZ, Research Associate
JANEL DEAR, Senior Program Assistant
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD
FARNAM JAHANIAN, Carnegie Mellon University, Chair
LUIZ BARROSO, Google, Inc.
STEVEN M. BELLOVIN, NAE,1 Columbia University
ROBERT F. BRAMMER, Brammer Technology, LLC
DAVID CULLER, NAE, University of California, Berkeley
EDWARD FRANK, Cloud Parity, Inc.
LAURA HAAS, NAE, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
MARK HOROWITZ, NAE, Stanford University
ERIC HORVITZ, NAE, Microsoft
VIJAY KUMAR, NAE, University of Pennsylvania
BETH MYNATT, Georgia Institute of Technology
CRAIG PARTRIDGE, Raytheon BBN Technologies
DANIELA RUS, NAE, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
FRED B. SCHNEIDER, NAE, Cornell University
MARGO SELTZER, Harvard University
MOSHE VARDI, NAS2/NAE, Rice University
KATHERINE YELICK, NAE, University of California, Berkeley
JON EISENBERG, Senior Director
LYNETTE I. MILLETT, Associate Director, CSTB, and Director, Cyber Resilience Forum
SHENAE BRADLEY, Administrative Assistant
EMILY GRUMBLING, Program Officer
RENEE HAWKINS, Financial and Administrative Manager
KATIRIA ORTIZ, Associate Program Officer
JANKI PATEL, Senior Program Assistant
For more information on CSTB, see its website at
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1 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences.
More than 60 years of research on disaster response has yielded many insights about how people respond to information indicating that they are at risk and under what circumstances they are most likely to take appropriate protective action. This work was largely done in the context of traditional media. The landscape for public alerts and warnings changed with the introduction of the Internet, mobile phones, and their applications, such as social media. Following a series of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, that revealed shortcomings in the nation’s ability to effectively alert populations at risk, Congress passed the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act in 2006. This legislation encouraged the adoption of much newer technologies, including the dissemination of alerts and warning messages via mobile devices, which previous alerting technologies did not reach.
Less is known about how the use of new technologies for message dissemination and receipt changes the public response or alters how public safety officials can best employ the alerting capabilities. For example, fairly little is known about how to maximize the effectiveness of messages whose content is limited by technology constraints or policy decisions, or how best to make use of alerts and warnings in today’s information-rich environments. Additionally, formal study of the use of social media in disasters has been limited, and there are many outstanding questions, including how they can be used by government officials to both alert the public and gain situational awareness, the challenges and opportunities additional input from citizens provides, the associated
safety and privacy risks, and strategies for coping with rumors and also false information.
Research, including recent work sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has provided some insight into these issues. Additionally, the National Academies had previously convened three workshops under DHS sponsorship, one focusing on alerting via cell phones, one considering the use of social media, and one examining how to geographically target alerts and warnings. As part of this study, workshops were convened on August 9-10, 2016, and September 1, 2016. Workshop participants included DHS-supported researchers and other experts in disaster sociology, emergency response, and technologies. Additional briefings were held on November 1-2, 2016, January 26-27 2017, and March 23, 2017 (Appendix C provides a list of briefings received).
This report reviews results from DHS-sponsored research (Appendix B includes summaries of this work), the Academies workshops, and other sociotechnical research on the public response to alerts and warnings. Building on that review, the committee sets forth a research agenda that highlights areas where future research should be focused. (Box P.1 contains the full statement of task.)
As the committee was wrapping up its work, the nation experienced a series of major natural disasters, with devastation from hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and the October 1, 2017, shootings on the Las Vegas Strip. Each of these events was a sober reminder of the impacts of disasters on our communities and the important role that timely and effective communication with the public plays in responding to such events. Early reports on the October 2017 California wildfires further underscore
the importance of public alerting and potential benefits of enhancing the reach and effectiveness of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which allows public officials to deliver alerts to cell phones in an affected area.
We have attempted to outline a research agenda that not only examines questions about past disasters and recent technologies but also envisions what future integrated alert and warning technologies and systems might look like. As both natural and humanmade hazards occur with more frequency or severity, we hope that a future system will more readily adapt to a new set of hazards and more quickly integrate newer technologies.
Ramesh Rao, Chair
Committee on the Future of Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Research Directions
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Acknowledgment of Reviewers
This Consensus Study Report was reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in making each published report as sound as possible and to ensure that it meets the institutional standards for quality, objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We wish to thank the following individuals for their review of this report:
Ellen Bass, Drexel University,
Art Botterell, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services,
Louise K. Comfort, University of Pittsburgh,
Michael Ettenberg, NAE,1 Dolce Technologies,
W. Craig Fugate, Federal Emergency Management Agency (retired),
Dale Hatfield, University of Colorado, Boulder,
Anthony (Tony) F. Lemieux, Georgia State University,
Craig Partridge, Raytheon BBN Technologies,
Francisco Sanchez, Harris County (Texas) Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management,
1 Member, National Academy of Engineering.
Alberto Sangiovanni-Vincentelli, NAE, University of California, Berkeley, and
Sharon Wood, NAE, University of Texas, Austin.
Although the reviewers listed here provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations of this report nor did they see the final draft before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Phillip M. Neches, Teradata Corporation. He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with the standards of the National Academies and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content rests entirely with the authoring committee and the National Academies.