An Experimental Study of Mobile Alerts and Warnings

Joshua Barbour, Elizabeth Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Today, many organizations – private, public, and governmental – use mobile alert technologies to issue brief text messages to stakeholders’ smartphones. The messages may inform recipients about an emergent situation (i.e., an alert), or they may instruct recipients to take personal protective action (i.e., a warning). Past research has focused heavily on mobile public warnings, so most guidance for practitioners assumes conditions that may not apply to situations in which the location, timing, and severity of a risk are more ambiguous. The present study used an experimental design to compare U.S. residents’ reactions to notional mobile messages for threats with greater and lesser personalization (N = 299). Message conditions tested different message features, including safety directives, recommendations for seeking additional information, empathy, and choice-empowerment. Results indicated that participants preferred clear, directive safety instructions when the threat was highly personalized, but they preferred an emphasis on choice and information-seeking when the location, timing, or severity of the risk was more ambiguous. In practice, it is not always possible to segment recipients of mobile alerts as much as they might want or expect. Instead, when the exact timing, location, and severity of risk are less certain, organizations can use information-seeking guidance and choice empowerment to promote productive “milling.”
Original languageEnglish
JournalNatural Hazards Review
StateAccepted/In press - 1800


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