Humans have to be the most difficult “animal” in the world to warm. When something outside the ordinary happens we often mill around seeking information from others around us. The problem is of course they don’t have any more information than you do. So, the group spends time talking about what might be happening then collectively decide it is no big deal and ignore it. Warning represent something we don’t have much experience with in society. Warnings tell us something low probability, but high risk is happening. That makes us uncomfortable and when we are uncomfortable we look for ways to make ourselves comfortable again; that can mean we convince ourselves nothing is happening.
Here is an exaggerated example of how hard it is to warn people. There is a forest fire outside your neighborhood, you can see the flames. The flames also seem to be moving towards your home. You get out your binoculars to get a better view of the fire. As you are watching the fire you notice all the forest animals running away from the flames. Your neighbors come out of their homes to see what you are up to. Everyone stands around talking about the fire, the dangers and what it must be like to be a forest animal running from the flames. After good bit of discussion, you and your neighbors go back into your homes and watch TV. Sound far-fetched? It isn’t. You probably read that and remembered when something like that happened to you. Something like hearing a fire alarm for example? Did you immediately evacuate? Or, did you look around for more information and, after receiving none, went back to your business?
Generally people need two stimulus to respond to what may be an emergency. Why is that? Our thinking gets in the way. Animals don’t think about their actions too much, they see fire they run. We see fire and what to know more because we are really smart and stuff. So, what would the two stimuli look like? Well, if you saw the flames and it was accompanied by screaming you would do something. If you saw the flames and felt the heat you would do something. But, if I see the flames and see the smoke probably not going to do much about it. It doesn’t provide enough information for me so I’ll seek it elsewhere. Probably from other people who know as little as I do.
With warnings we know we are a little too smart for our own good, but let’s say you are a person responsible for warning others. There is a series of events that postpone warning and response. If we break them down into categories they are, warning delay, warning diffusion and protective action taken. As for the first, warning delay. Let’s say, for example, you are at a campground on Memorial Day weekend. The campground is full and they are all asleep (you are the only one crazy enough to get up early while taking time off). As you go through your morning routine you see what you think is smoke rising from a nearby hill. A person in your situation has to fight against warning delay. You’ve been notified of a possible threat, but how long/what will it take for you to do something about it.
Warning diffusion is how much time it takes for everyone possibly impacted to receive the warning. In our campground example do you run around yelling at people to, “get up, a potential fire is coming!” Do you try to log onto your social media account and post your warning hoping that others in the camp will check it soon? The options really are limitless. We need to find the option that allows from the best message to; be delivered quickly and to the most number of people. The trick is to provide a warning message that has all the information needed to make a good decision, but is also as concise as possible.
Protective action. This is the time it takes the warning message receivers to initiate action. In this step most people will take protective action and prepare themselves to receive further messages. All emergency situations follow these steps and each step takes time. The critical function is time in an emergency. We will go into detail on how we can reduce the time wasted in each one of these steps and limit the amount of time it takes to move from warning to taking protective action.