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DisastersImproving public safety during severe weather, other disasters

Published 6 November 2017

Our ability to observe and predict severe weather events and other disasters has improved markedly over recent decades, yet this progress does not always translate into similar advances in the systems used in such circumstances to protect lives. A more cohesive alert and warning system that integrates public and private communications mechanisms and adopts new technologies quickly is needed to deliver critical information during emergency situations. At the same time, better understanding of social and behavioral factors would improve the ways we communicate about hazards, inform response decisions such as evacuations, develop more resilient urban infrastructure, and take other steps to improve weather readiness.

Our ability to observe and predict severe weather events and other disasters has improved markedly over recent decades, yet this progress does not always translate into similar advances in the systems used in such circumstances to protect lives. A more cohesive alert and warning system that integrates public and private communications mechanisms and adopts new technologies quickly is needed to deliver critical information during emergency situations. At the same time, better understanding of social and behavioral factors would improve the ways we communicate about hazards, inform response decisions such as evacuations, develop more resilient urban infrastructure, and take other steps to improve weather readiness.

The NAS says that two reports by the National Academies of Sciences propose steps to improve public safety and resilience in the face of extreme weather and other disasters.

Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions examines how government systems such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) will need to evolve as technology advances. The transformation of these alert systems should be informed by both technological and social and behavioral sciences research, the report says.

Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences Within the Weather Enterprise emphasizes the need for government agencies, industry, and academic institutions involved in the weather enterprise to work together to more actively engage social and behavioral scientists, in order to make greater progress in protecting life and enhancing prosperity. While efforts to improve physical weather prediction should continue, the report says, realizing the greatest return on investment from such efforts requires understanding how people’s contexts, experiences, knowledge, perceptions, and attitudes shape their responses to weather risks.

Evolution of emergency alerts system based on technological changes and behavioral factors
As technology advances, government systems such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) will need to evolve, and their transformation should be informed by both technological and social and behavioral sciences research, says Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Current knowledge and future research directions,one of the reports.