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Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
THU5.1: The future of alerting the public – Discussion of human behavior, information expectations and technology use in an intercultural context
Time: Thursday, 30/Aug/2012: 2:40pm - 4:10pm
Session Chair: Ulrich MEISSEN, Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems
Location: Dischma

Workshop organized by EU-Projects Opti-Alert and Alert4All


The future of alerting the public – discussion of human behavior, information expectations and technology use in an intercultural context

Ulrich MEISSEN1, Kerstin DRESSEL2, Michael KLAFFT1,3, Cristina PÁRRAGA NIEBLA4

1Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems; 2sine Institut gGmbH; 3FOM University of Applied Sciences; 4DLR German Aerospace Center

In recent years, public authorities and private companies have invested heavily in different types of alerting systems. However, in these systems the personal, cultural and social characteristics of the warning recipient are not taken into account in message composition and delivery. This shortcoming is significant in case of large-scale international disasters such as tsunamis, storm surges, large-scale nuclear accidents and hurricanes, which require an integrated, multi-national warning and alerting strategy for the general public. Due to the lack of cultural and personal sensitivity of existing alerting systems, warning messages are currently not ideally adapted to the recipients, and therefore cannot achieve optimal impact and compliance.

Another unsolved yet important issue is the interplay between alerts transmitted through different communication channels. Little is known, for example, about how personalized warning messages sent by e-mail, or SMS interact with more general warnings sent through broadcast media, and how such an interaction may affect the behavior of the general public in an emergency. Practically no simulation tools exist that allow a quick assessment of the likely impact of different warning strate-gies on the general public. As a result, decisions on how to alert are usually taken intuitively on an ad-hoc basis.

Existing, conventional alerting systems for the general public follow a “one size fits all” paradigm: they do not take any cultural or social differences among recipients into account. Since different social and cultural clusters show different media use patterns, tailor-made communications strategies are highly desirable if emergency alerts are to achieve optimal impact. On the other hand, we witness a vast pervasion of new communication infrastructures in our daily live, which sets the foundation to new ways of alerting the public but also to informal and unpredictable spread of „alerts“ via social media. Furthermore, most systems are managed nationally and do not allow efficient coordination of cross-border alerting strategies. As a result, the impact of alert messages is often sub-optimal. Several international projects are analyzing these challenges and seek for optimized methodologies for effective alerting in the future.

The objective of the workshop is to bring together scientists and practitioners who are concerned with alerting the public in emergency situations. Workshop participants will discuss the experiences, challenges and possible solutions stemming from social, cultural and transnational aspects of alerting. Addressed participants are Emergency Management Professionals and researchers from the fields of Public Safety, Disaster Management, Crisis Communication, Sociology, Psychology, Media/Communication Science, Computer Science and other relevant fields. The discussion will be based on current scientific findings of the EU research projects Opti-Alert (http://www.opti-alert.eu) and Alert4All (http://www.alert4all.eu). Based on the presentations of these results three major themes are discussed in a panel discussion: (1) Human Behaviour & Information Expectations; (2) Technology Use Aspects; (3) Cross-Border-Alerting.

For each topic, a brief introductory note (approx. 5 minutes) will be presented to stimulate a discus-sion. The discussion itself will be guided by a moderator and will involve members of the panel (emergency management professionals as well as researchers). The auditorium will also become involved by asking questions to the panel or inserting viewpoints into the discussion. Towards the end of each topic, the moderator will summarize discussion results and recommendations for the development of future alerting systems will be derived.

The main aim of the workshop is to draw a common picture of the current findings, challenges and envisioned solutions of the abovementioned aspects in public alerting in an interdisciplinary discus-sion. Minutes of the discussion will be taken, and key findings will be summarized in a workshop report that is going to be published on the IDRC platform. In the long term, the results of the workshop shall provide a basis for an interdisciplinary exchange on public alerting that addresses practitioners and researchers from several fields.

Maximum Number of Participants: No strict limitations, but the optimal number of participants in the auditorium would be between 20 and 35.

Cross-border alerting


German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Traditionally, disaster relief was thought as a non-European problem. This view is changing along with the growth of natural disasters with climate change and increasing man-made disasters , as there is a clear benefit in cooperation among member states.

The Lisbon Treaty prepares the terrain. In its Article 176c, it states: “the Union shall encourage cooperation between Member States in order to improve the effectiveness of systems for preventing and protecting against natural or man-made disasters.” European legislation shall establish the measures necessary to help achieve these objectives. In this context, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies publishes a report on the “Analysis of Law in the European Union pertaining to Cross-Border Disaster Relief”, clarifying the legal framework and identifying the gaps.

There is a tendency towards cross-border cooperation for disaster response and relief. The European Parliament even allocated special funding for 6 pilot projects in this area. However, all activities are addressing cooperation of first responders and interoperability to fight natural disasters. But the element “cross-border alerting” of the population is not concretely mentioned or specifically addressed. The reasons why “cross-border alerting” is not directly addressed shall be discussed in the workshop, discussing first what is exactly meant by “cross-border alerting”: (1) Is it country A alerting directly the population of country B? (2) Is it country A alerting own citizens currently in country B? (3) Is it country A and country B coordinating and agreeing on a common strategy to disseminate alerts towards A+B citizens? (4) Or is it integrating alert dissemination systems?

The right definition shall be discussed along with the consequences and opportunities. Finally, the blocking/challenging issues shall be identified (organizational, economic, legislative, administrative, and socio-cultural).

Technology use aspects of alerting systems

Michael KLAFFT1,2

1Fraunhofer Institute for Open Communication Systems; 2FOM University of Applied Sciences

Advances in information and communication technology offer new opportunities to alert the population in emergency situations. Multi-channel alerting systems are nowadays state of the art. They combine traditional broadcasting via TV, radio or teletext with more recent approaches like cell broadcasts or even social media and complementary opt-in channels like SMS, fax or E-mail. Additionally, it has become technologically feasible to adopt alerts to the individual needs and preferences of the recipients. However, how shall all these technical capabilities be used in emergencies to achieve the optimal impact? Questions to be discussed in this context are: (1) Does too much personalization create confusion and chaos? How much personalization is feasible, how much is needed and accepted? To which extent shall personal data be used in the context of alerting and how can they be protected in IT applications? Who shall be in control of registration and personalization processes? What are the essential components of an alert message, and are there socio-cultural and regional factors to be observed in the design process? How shall technology support the alert message design process in emergency situations?The presentation at the workshop will bring forward a set of theses on these issues which will then be reflected and assessed by practitioners in a related panel discussion.

Taking into account socio-cultural factors to improve alerting strategies

Kerstin DRESSEL, Patricia PFEIL

sine Institut gGmbH

Socio-cultural factors, such as age, sex, area of living, previous disaster experience or migration background – to name just a few of the most important ones – have a fundamental influence on the way people perceive and cope with risks and disasters. Meaningful alerting requires taking into account such socio-cultural factors in order to be effective and to reach as most people as possible and, consequently in the hope, to avoid as many casualties as possible. One aspect of the EC-funded project OPTI-ALERT (www.opti-alert.eu) addresses questions such as how different types of risks (industrial risks as well as severe weather conditions) are perceived in different social-cultural settings in seven examined countries. The explorative study is based upon in-depth interviews with experts of crisis management and crisis communication, biographical interviews with individuals with disaster experience and focus-group interviews conducted. All three qualitative methods have been applied in the following countries: Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and Sweden. The analysis of the material focused upon differences in risk perception, risk knowledge, coping strategies and information behavior and expectations (including new media). Findings include the following: the choice of the alerting tool should correlate with the age of the recipients; the alert message should correlate with the area of living; and the choice of the sender of the alerting should correlate with the respective national context. For improvements in alerting strategies, crisis management should be aware of these important correlations.

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