Warning and Informing – Keeping the message clear and simple.

I have recently been working closely with some of the teams responsible for warning and informing the public in the event of a major incident. What struck me during these conversations was how easily the public message could become overcomplicated by the very processes and criteria designed to ensure that incident managers reach the correct decision as an event develops.

This article (Emergency text alerts) from CBC News in Canada also got me thinking about the importance of clear messaging.

Warning and informing is undoubtedly a complex business, especially where the weather is concerned. The British weather in particular has a habit of keeping even the most well informed on their toes!

As incident managers, regardless of the type of incident that is being managed, we are reliant on huge quantities of data, software and processes refined over many years of experience to reach appropriate decisions. There are the political factors, multi-agency partnerships and then the planning and staffing required to ensure the message is delivered and appropriate action taken.

What can be forgotten in all this is the message to be delivered and how this message remains clear and simple. I recall a conversation a few years ago when I consulted a public group on what they wanted to know in terms of detail should an event occur that may place them at risk. The response I received was perfectly worded and a lesson for us all working in this field:

“Tell me if I’m at risk and then tell me what I need to do about it”

Nothing more and nothing less.

Now I totally accept that especially when warning and informing the public, incident managers need to move through the necessary steps, criteria and make a highly skilled judgement on the steps that should be taken. What we all need to be very careful of though is ensuring that our technical thought processes do not create complicated messages for the public, whatever the message it needs to be really clear, effective and simple.

Tell me if I’m at risk and then tell me what I need to do about it……………works very well doesn’t it?


About the author – Chris Regan is the Director of Blue Rock Risk Limited an international crisis and risk management consultancy. Contact Chris at chris@bluerockrisk.com or via LinkedIn