EFFICIENCY OF THE EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM
Kepner, Rita Marie
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Scholars, emergency workers, and the general public have noted failures in disaster communication over the last decade. Communication breakdowns following catastrophic events have been categorized, defined and studied in a variety of ways most often focusing on the effectiveness of the communication - do people take the right actions? But what about the efficiency of the system - do people actually receive the communication? This study focused on one narrow type of disaster communication: disaster warnings as embodied in the emergency alert system (EAS). Inspired by reports of some unrelayed EAS warnings, this researcher explored the efficiency of the EAS by using in-depth interviews with EAS technicians from western states to seek understanding of why some urgent warnings have not been relayed. The introduction and review of the literature indicate that some EAS messages have not been relayed as one might expect, and people have been seriously injured and in some cases, deaths have occurred. The design of this dissertation study was guided by a basic communication model and Kantian Capitalism theory. These perspectives suggest that a warning such as "tsunami coming; run now" would consistently be relayed by broadcasters even though, in our capitalistic system, the broadcast time is costly. Study results indicate that the federally regulated EAS system is inefficient for a variety of reasons, including the cost of broadcast time. Evidence shows that the EAS is will remain inefficient in spite of or perhaps because of ongoing complex Kantian Capitalistic efforts now underway. Strong leadership might improve efficiency by making dire warnings mandatory. Lack of leadership at the national, state, and local levels, absence of required training, and misunderstanding of the role of the broadcasters in the public warning system provide opportunity for further research and challenges for public policy development.