Enhancing Warnings

This report by Dr Carina Fearnley and Professor Ilan Kelman from the UCL Warning Research Centre offers insights into what warnings are and how they can better support actions for effective behavioural preparedness and responses across a wide range of hazards, stakeholders and sectors.

The full report, commissioned by the National Preparedness Commission, can be found here. A press release associated with the launch of the report can be found here

Warnings are part of our everyday life, whether traffic lights, food health warnings,
the weather, advice from colleagues, or moralistic stories. Warnings serve to provide
cautionary advice, give advance notice of something, and generate awareness to trigger
consequent decisions and actions. Warnings are seldom considered beyond the issuance
of a warning, yet warnings are far more complex, requiring a comprehensive tool and
system to help implement preventative, mitigative, and disaster risk-reductive actions.

Warnings are not just a siren or phone alert but should be a long-term social process
that is a carefully crafted, integrated system of preparedness involving vulnerability
analysis and reduction, hazard monitoring and forecasting, disaster risk assessment, and
communication. Together, these activities enable a wide range of leaders and others
– such as individuals, local groups, governments, and businesses – to take timely and
effective action to reduce disaster risks in advance of hazards. Warnings are represented
via different iconographies and communicated via different mediums that usually express
some form of threshold or tipping point. These vary enormously contingent on the hazard,
and social, political, and economic context of the warning.

Warnings should provide actionable guidance that is integrated into everyday life and
behaviour, providing transparency and credibility to help manage risk in emerging
and ongoing situations. Warnings must operate beyond the silos frequently seen in
institutions, for different vulnerabilities, different hazards, and different stakeholders to
become a long-term social process that can serve to bring together these diverse issues.
This report examines how this can be implemented providing key case-study examples of
lessons learnt and guidance on how to build effective warning systems.

To enhance a warning requires placing it as part of a warning system, a long-term social
process that embodies the 3 I’s ( Imagination, Initiative, Integration) and 3 E’s (Education, Exchange, Engagement).

The authors offer three recommendations and provide guidance on how to implement these recommendations:

  1. Develop effective warnings that consider multiple-hazards, cascading
    events, and integration across stakeholders.
  2.  Adopt a public engagement and outreach programme that empowers people to identify and fulfil their own needs regarding warnings for enhancing preparedness and response behaviours and actions.
  3. Create and support mechanisms to overcome silos and territorialism
    and instead encourage idea and action exchange for building trust and
    connections that support action when a major situation arises.