Deployed for the first time in 2012, the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) service is part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), providing an additional dissemination path for alert and warning messages. Authorized officials can send 90-character alerts to the public on WEA-capable and enabled mobile devices via the Short Message Service Cell Broadcast (SMSCB) protocol, a one-to-many channel for sending short text messages. The alerts are geographically targeted and a single alert is sent to cell towers in the targeted area. The alert is then delivered to all mobile subscribers covered by those cell towers. This form of targeting is coarse and does not make provision for subscriber preference, subscriber history or anticipated future movements of subscribers. The inability to provide fine-grained targeting, combined with text-based short messages’ limitations in delivering adequate information and/or actionable advice, is frequently cited among factors causing citizens to opt out of the WEA service or ignore alert messages, thereby reducing the service’s effectiveness.
The primary goals of this research are to gain insight into WEA adoption and acceptance issues, in particular with respect to perceived poor public response to alert messages, and to develop and test strategies for overcoming these issues within the framework of the current WEA service architecture. The methods used included interviews, surveys, social media analysis and controlled experiments.