Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are a critical mitigation measure employed during emergencies to inform and keep the public safe. Research on WEAs and disasters conducted by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and Advanced Brain Monitoring (ABM) has found that individuals perceive the threat of floods differently than other types of disasters on a physiological level within the frontal lobes of the brain. This difference occurs both when subjects are told they are about to watch a video about floods and when they are watching or reading alerts about floods. The perceived urgency of floods also appears to be more sensitive to the personality characteristics of individuals than during other types of disasters.
The PNNL and ABM effort collected 20-channel electroencephalography (EEG) data from 51 subjects as part of an experiment to evaluate the ways in which people perceive different kinds of disasters, and their response to different types of social media content related to disasters. Subjects were presented with a series of 50 WEA and Twitter messages collected from each of five types of disasters (blizzard, flood, gas leak, hurricane and tornado) for a total of 250 messages, and asked after reading each if they would share that message over their own personal social network. These messages were a combination of those shared by actual Twitter users and disaster alerts sent by news stations and other emergency alert services at the time of the disaster. Prior to exposure to a disaster-specific set of messages, subjects were told what type of disaster they were about to view, and then shown a contextual news broadcast related to that type of disaster. All subjects were exposed to the same 50 WEA and Twitter messages for each disaster, but the order in which the disasters were presented was changed randomly each time.