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Overcoming Ambiguity: Conflict Between Emergency Warning Messages and Socio-Environmental Cues

  • Paula Dootson (a1) (a2), Dominique Greer (a1) (a2), Sophie Miller (a1) (a2) and Vivienne Tippett (a1) (a2)

Abstract

Introduction:

Emergency services are not the only source of information that the public uses when considering taking action during an event. There are also environmental cues, information from the media, or actions by peers that can influence perceptions and actions. When cues from different information sources are in conflict, it can cause uncertainty about the right protective action to take.

Aim:

Our research responds to concerns that conflicting cues exacerbate community non-compliance with emergency warnings.

Methods:

The sample consisted of 2,649 participants who completed one of 32 surveys.

Results:

The findings from this project confirmed emergency services agencies’ suspicions that conflicting cues can affect information processing and risk perceptions, and therefore prevent people from taking appropriate protective action. The results were reasonably consistent across fire and flood scenarios, suggesting the problem of conflicting cues is not hazard-specific. When presented with consistent cues, participants were more likely to evacuate, perceive risk about the event, share information with friends, family, and peers, find emergency warnings to be effective, and comprehend information. When faced with conflicting cues, participants were more likely to seek out additional information. It affected their information processing and self-efficacy. The results did not change for people of different ages, native language, country of birth, or post-hazard experience. This is contrary to most emergency literature research findings, which show that individual differences play a role in impacting propensity to take protective action. However, there does appear to be a significant gender effect. These results require further exploration.

Discussion:

These findings may be used to assist emergency services agencies to tailor community warnings during time-critical situations, and develop ways to mitigate ambiguity caused by conflicting cues to encourage protective action in order to save lives and properties.

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