Project Objectives

Project Background


 In recent years, public authorities and private companies have invested heavily in different types of alerting systems. Examples include the WIND storm warning system, financed by the insurance industry; the publicly funded German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS); the HAZARDOUS flash flood warning system in Italy; and the more general-purpose Emergency Alert System (EAS) in the United States. These alerting systems now allow users to subscribe to different types of alerts and to select alert levels and communication channels. However, the composition and design of alert messages currently depends only on the user’s functional role: there are specific messages for members of the emergency services, homeowners, motorists etc. The personal, cultural and social characteristics of the warning recipient are not taken into account in message composition and delivery. This shortcoming is significant in case of large-scale international disasters such as tsunamis, storm surges, large-scale nuclear accidents and hurricanes, which require an integrated, multi-national warning and alerting strategy for the general public. Due to the lack of cultural and personal sensitivity of existing alerting systems, warning messages are currently not ideally adapted to the recipients, and therefore cannot achieve optimal impact.

Another unsolved yet important issue is the interplay between alerts transmitted through different communication channels. Little is known, for example, about how personalized warning messages sent by e-mail, or SMS interact with more general warnings sent through broadcast media, and how such an interaction may affect the behaviour of the general public in an emergency. Practically no simulation tools exist that allow a quick assessment of the likely impact of different warning strategies on the general public. As a result, decisions on how to alert are usually taken intuitively on an ad-hoc basis.


Project Objectives


The objective of Opti-Alert is to develop an alerting suite that:

  • allows a rapid simulation of the impact of different alerting strategies, depending on media availability and selection;
  • supports the optimal combination of individual alerting channels and broadcast media;
  • improves public compliance through the social and cultural adaptation and personalization of alerting messages and communication channels;
  • supports the rapid and automated implementation of a selected alerting strategy;
  • can address a wide variety of communication channels simultaneously to facilitate efficient, high-throughput alerting; and
  • can be integrated with existing tools and legacy systems through well-defined interfaces.

These objectives will be pursued by the following key research activities:

  • In-depth analysis of the effect of social, cultural and regional factors on risk perception and risk communication
  • Analysis of the influence of the observed socio-cultural differences on regional alerting strategies
  • Analysis of the impact of individualized alerting (by SMS, e-mail etc.) and alerting through broadcast media
  • Identification of best practices in alerting through broadcast media
  • Definition of algorithms to simulate alert propagation in the population, both at large and inside critical infrastructures such as metro stations, as a function of interpersonal communication patterns and the selected mix of alerting channels. 

One innovative goal of Opti-Alert is to improve the impact of alerts by developing alerting strategies which take socio-cultural characteristics of the recipients into account. Such characteristics include differences in risk perception and different media use patterns. Based on the situational and socio-cultural context of an emergency, authorities can swiftly simulate different alerting strategies, re-assess alerting procedures and processes, and improve the impact and coverage of alerts. Another innovative focus of the project is the adaptation of alert content - wording, layout and design, etc. - to the sociocultural milieu of the recipients. The idea is to improve compliance with the recommended actions by creating confidence and, if appropriate, a sense of urgency among the people alerted.