Associate Professor of Communication Hamilton Bean and his research collaborators, affiliated with the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), a U.S. Department of Homeland Security-funded Center of Excellence based at the University of Maryland, are conducting multi-method research on how to best word short, text-based warning messages delivered over mobile devices during an emergency.
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are 90-characters long, geographically-targeted emergency messages sent by government alerting authorities through the nation's mobile telecommunications networks and, for the first time, allow officials to directly notify at-risk publics where they live and work. Bean is leading the qualitative research portions of the project, which examines how to optimize the message contents of WEAs to improve public response outcomes. Through a combination of experiments, survey research, and interviews with citizens and emergency management professionals, Bean and his colleagues' findings have generated potential improvements in the way that WEAs are currently structured, as well as indicate future directions for applied risk and crisis communication theory development. Bean and his colleagues are currently analyzing survey data from respondents who received WEAs during the 2013 floods in Boulder, CO. Once that analysis is complete and combined with the findings from other phases of the research project, the team will present its conclusions and recommendations to officials at FEMA, DHS, FCC, and other federal agencies and private-sector partners. Bean has already seen the project's interim findings influence discussions in Washington, DC, and he is excited to see how his work will shape this important public policy arena, "It is exciting to see communication research addressing significant public policy and technological challenges and generating new knowledge to enable officials to communicate more effectively with the public during emergencies." Read more about Bean's research.