BUFFALO, N.Y. – A number of factors, including complacency
and apathy, can be blamed for citizens’ failure to heed
disaster warnings, according to recent research from the University
at Buffalo School of Management.
Raj Sharman, associate professor, and H. Raghav Rao, SUNY
Distinguished Service Professor, in the school’s Department
of Management Science and Systems, studied a number of
post-disaster reports to assess why some people refused to evacuate
in the face of warnings about imminent tornadoes, hurricanes and
other emergency situations such as campus shootings and industrial
accidents. The reports were conducted by organizations including
the National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration and the Congressional Research Service.
The School of Management researchers found that past personal
experience in “riding out” storms can lead people to
feel complacent when receiving emergency warnings. On the other
hand, previous warnings that proved to be false can result in
apathetic responses when another warning occurs.
Post-disaster surveys also showed that many people lacked
awareness about how serious the situation was when warnings
To combat the factors leading to nonresponse, the researchers
made several recommendations. First, warnings should come from more
than one source.
“Generally speaking, a single source of information rarely
prompts people to take appropriate action,” Sharman says.
“Multiple sources are more effective.”
In addition to a community’s traditional emergency signal,
such as a siren, warnings should be posted through traditional
and/or social media. The professors’ research shows that text
messages, Facebook and Twitter can be trusted sources of
information, especially if messages are sent from a trustworthy
source, such as a close friend or local police.
“Text messaging is now clearly preferred among younger age
groups than other modes of communication such as phone and
email,” Sharman says. “Younger people are in constant
connection with social media, so these channels have more effective
reach.” Also, since text messages remain in a queue, they do
not need to be retransmitted and are more likely to be seen.
Second, warnings should include more descriptive language, using
words such as “unsurvivable” and
“catastrophic” and urging citizens to take
“immediate, life-saving action” to motivate the public
in the event of imminent and extreme severe weather.
Finally, communities should take advantage of technological
advances to make warnings more specific. GPS technology can allow
for more tightly targeted geographic alerts, which may help
motivate people to take action because they can see the threat to
their particular area.
The research was published as a white paper for Federal Signal
Corp. It included information from Federal Signal’s 2012
public safety survey, conducted by Zogby International. The
research was partially funded by the National Science
The UB School of Management is recognized for its emphasis on
real-world learning, community and economic impact, and the global
perspective of its faculty, students and alumni. The school has
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quality of its programs and the return on investment it provides
its graduates. For more information about the UB School of
Management, visit http://mgt.buffalo.edu.