Earthquake Early Warning: User Education and Designing Effective Messages

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Erin R Burkett1, Deanna D Sellnow2, Lucile Jones1 and Timothy L Sellnow2, (1)USGS Pasadena Field Office, Pasadena, CA, United States, (2)University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, United States
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and partners are transitioning from test-user trials of a demonstration earthquake early warning system (ShakeAlert) to deciding and preparing how to implement the release of earthquake early warning information, alert messages, and products to the public and other stakeholders. An earthquake early warning system uses seismic station networks to rapidly gather information about an occurring earthquake and send notifications to user devices ahead of the arrival of potentially damaging ground shaking at their locations. Earthquake early warning alerts can thereby allow time for actions to protect lives and property before arrival of damaging shaking, if users are properly educated on how to use and react to such notifications.

A collaboration team of risk communications researchers and earth scientists is researching the effectiveness of a chosen subset of potential earthquake early warning interface designs and messages, which could be displayed on a device such as a smartphone. Preliminary results indicate, for instance, that users prefer alerts that include 1) a map to relate their location to the earthquake and 2) instructions for what to do in response to the expected level of shaking.

A number of important factors must be considered to design a message that will promote appropriate self-protective behavior. While users prefer to see a map, how much information can be processed in limited time? Are graphical representations of wavefronts helpful or confusing? The most important factor to promote a helpful response is the predicted earthquake intensity, or how strong the expected shaking will be at the user’s location. Unlike Japanese users of early warning, few Californians are familiar with the earthquake intensity scale, so we are exploring how differentiating instructions between intensity levels (e.g., “Be aware” for lower shaking levels and “Drop, cover, hold on” at high levels) can be paired with self-directed supplemental information to increase the public’s understanding of earthquake shaking and protective behaviors.