Natural hazards, where risks are often high and lives and property are at stake, raise considerable uncertainty and anxiety. Providing the community with information that is designed to instil specific preparation and response behaviours is important for emergency services.

Hazard Note 57 investigates a body of research to determine whether well-established, theoretical principles could be applied effectively in warning messages for natural hazards. The research suggests that the following principles could maximise comprehension of warning messages:

Sponsor's message

  • be in an easy to understand layout – use dot points or subheads where possible
  • personalise risk
  • cover the hazard type, severity, likelihood, possible consequences, location and timeframe
  • be in plain English
  • group related information together
  • be issued by a credible source
  • link to other credible sources of information

Emergency service agencies continue to revise their messages, but preliminary tests in simulated settings suggest that community comprehension of emergency messages can be improved by using these principles.

Click this link to download the full Hazard Note in PDF format – hazard_note_57_communicating_for_maximum_comprehension_final_0

Further reading

Cialdini R B and Goldstein N (2004), Social influence: compliance and conformity, Annual Review of Psychology, 55, 591-621.

Clark T (1998), The impact of candid versus legally defensible language on the persuasiveness of environmental self-assessments, Journal of Business Communication, 35(3), 368-382.

Sponsor's message

Dahlstrom M F, Dudo A, and Brossard D (2012), Precision of information, sensational information, and self-efficacy information as message-level variables affecting risk perceptions, Risk Analysis, 32(1), 155-166.

Glik D C (2007), Risk communication for public health emergencies, Annual Review of Public Health, 28(1), 33-54.

Griffin R J, Dunwoody S and Neuwirth K (1999), Proposed model of the relationship of risk information seeking and processing to the development of preventive behaviours, Environmental Research, 80(2): S230-S45.

Haugtvedt C P and Wegener D T (1994), Message order effects in persuasion: an attitude strength perspective, Journal of Consumer Research, 21(1), 205-218.

Lindall M and Perry R W (2012), The Protective Action Decision Model: theoretical modifications and additional evidence, Risk Analysis 32(4): 616-32, DOI: 10.1111/j.1539-6924.2011.01647

Bandura A (2001), Social cognitive theory of mass communication, Media Psychology, 3:3, 265-299, DOI: 10.1207/ S1532785XMEP0303_03

Lundgren R E and McMakin A H (2013), Risk communication: a handbook for communicating environmental, safety, and health risks (5th ed.).

Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.Mayer R E and Moreno R (2003), Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning, Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52. Mayhorn C (2005), Cognitive aging and the processing of hazard information and disaster warnings, Natural Hazards Review, 6(4), 165-170.

Mileti D S (1995), Factors related to flood warning response, paper presented at U.S. – Italy Research Workshop on the Hydrometeorology, Impacts, and Management of Extreme Floods, Perugia, Italy.

Mileti D S and Peek L (2000), The social psychology of public response to warnings of a nuclear power plant accident, Journal of Hazardous Materials, 75(2), 181-194. Nelson B C and Erlandson B E (2008), Managing cognitive load in educational multi-user virtual environments: reflection on design practice, Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(5-6), 619-641.

Service O, Hallsworth M, Halpern D, Algate F, Gallagher R, Nguyen S, Ruda S, Sanders M, Pelenur M, Gyani A, Harper H, Reinhard J and Kirkman E (2014), EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights, London: Behavioural Insights Team.

Tippett V, Greer D A, Mehta A, Christensen S, Duncan B, Stickley A M and Dootson P (2016), Emergency warning message comprehension: community focus groups, Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Wiseman R L and Schenck-Hamlin W (1981), A multidimensional scaling validation of an inductively-derived set of compliance-gaining strategies, Communication Monographs, 48(4), 251-270.



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