Research into warning’s has been going on for many years. In 1990 Denis Mileti and John Sorensen at Colorado State University wrote a definitive work on what we know about warnings: ” A social science perspective and state of the art assessment.”

There’s not much left out of the 166 page document: in fact when I spoke to the now retired Dennis Mileti at his home in California in May this year he said: “Ask me anything, Ian. There is nothing we don’t know.” He sounded a bit exasperated, perhaps a little impatient (Although it was dodgy phone line and late in the evening.) but many of those involved in the warnings process will have felt the same way.Dennis says he came to Australian in about 2002, and wonders if his work was heeded. Phil Campbell at NSW SES remembers the event well.

Their work is often cited. I was put onto it by Doug Paton from Tasmania, but Professor Jim Mclellan from Latrobe also suggested it was worth reading.

The summary is straight forward and still largely relevant today, 32 years later…(although digital and mobile platforms weren’t yet invented.). The following is a cut and paste, but it doesnt do justice to the strength and depth of their work.: 

More than 200 warnings systems were reviewed.

Variations in the nature and content of warnings has a large impact on whether or not the public heeds the warning. Relevant factors include the warning source, the warning channel, consistency, credibility, accuracy, understandability of the message and the warning frequency.

Characteristics of the population receiving the warning affects the response. This includes gender, ethnicity, age, social setting, stage of life or family context, psychological characteristics such as fatalism or risk perception; and knowledge such as experience or training.

Third, many current myths about public response to emergency warnings are at odds with knoweldtge derived from field investigations.Some of these myths include the “keep it simple” notion and “cry wolf syndrome” public panic and hysteria, and those concerning public willingness to respond to warnings. Finally different methods of warning the public are not equally effective at providing an alert and notification in diffferent physical and social settings. Most systems can provide a warning given three or more hours of available warning time. Special systems such as tone alert radios are needed to provide rapid warnings.”