Author: Ilan Kelman

Improving tornado warnings will help save lives

Source(s): Psychology Today


The morning of the tornadoes, the US National Weather Service warned people across the region to be ready for severe storms and to ensure that multiple information channels were open to receive updates. Their language became increasingly urgent that afternoon followed by direct advice to be ready to shelter and then, when a tornado was sighted and the pathway forecast, to act immediately.

“ALERT*** Heads up Mayfield Kentucky. Tornadic storm moving your way, could arrive by 9:30 p.m. Be ready to shelter immediately! This is a dangerous storm!” was sent at least 20 minutes before the town was destroyed. Typical pre-tornado warnings give perhaps half that time.


In the US, western Europe, and many other disasters, the technical warnings were on target but the social warnings were lacking. We are working on understanding people’s information acquisition, decision-making processes, and behavioral responses.


Pooling all this knowledge helps us to better determine how to constructively influence behavior, especially in developing a mindset that thinks, plans, and acts long before a crisis manifests. One key is avoiding the myth of “the last mile” of warnings which assumes that saving lives is simply about having the technical capability to monitor the environment for threats and then to get the right information to the right people at the right time. Instead, we must flip it around to the “first mile,” which starts with people, to learn about their information, warning, and action needs. Then, technical systems can be designed to match people’s needs rather than people having to match the technical needs.


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Hazards Tornado
Country and region United States of America
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