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From Social Science Research to Engineering Practice: Development of a Short Message Creation Tool for Wildfire Emergencies


During imminent threat emergencies, an authorities’ ability to communicate with the public and provide them with timely and accurate information is imperative. Wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) sent via the integrated public alert and warning system are short message alerts that authorities can send to devices in specific geographical regions during times of imminent threat. These messages give authorities the ability to distribute important information in a timely manner to those who need it most. In September 2016, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to strengthen the WEA system, including increasing the character limit of WEAs from 90c. to 360c. for 4G LTE and newer devices. Implemented in December 2019, the additional 270c. provide authorities with an opportunity to share supplemental and clarifying information in WEA messages. Current research regarding best practices for creating short message alerts was reviewed and analyzed to develop evidence-based guidance, and in turn, create a tool that, with only fifteen user-prompts, can be used to rapidly create effective and informative wildfire evacuation messages of up to 360c. A message creator can use this tool by selecting or entering responses to each of the fifteen prompts. This article presents a bridge between social science research on short message alert effectiveness and the practical generation of messages during imminent threat emergencies. Future research is proposed to develop this tool for purposes other than evacuation, for hazards other than wildfires, and for systems other than WEA (e.g., mass notification systems).

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  1. For a list of other WEA enhancements, please visit

  2. Message creation tool (i.e., the tool) refers to the developed program that can be used to generate messages.

  3. Message creator refers to the individual(s) who is utilizing the tool to generate messages.

  4. Two additional case studies can be found in [18].

  5. Note that the future research section lists ways to expand the beta version of the tool, e.g., to include multiple languages.

  6. On the second choice, the user can select “none” and include only one wildfire consequence in the message.

  7. The limit of 35c. was set so the message creator could provide a complete response with limited concern that the 360c. threshold for the message would be surpassed.

  8. Meaning the message creator has chosen to not use of the one provided responses and must manually enter the phrase they want included in the message.

  9. Note ## includes a drop down of numbers 1-12.

  10. Geographical warning areas may also be identified by other methods such as the triangulation of cell phone towers.

  11. Additional research to that found in Sect. 5.1 was used to inform the prompt selections, as well as detailed explanations of the chosen user responses can be found in [18].

  12. Note the message creation tool aligns with social science findings on risk communication during disasters and the value of the tool and tool-generated message are based on scientific findings regarding preferred message content. Further testing would be needed to assess whether they would have led to different or better outcomes in the Thomas Fire or other/future fires.

  13. This message is the output of the message creation tool and no post-tool editing has been completed. Any punctuation, organization, and/or additional verbiage not in the user responses is coded into the message creation tool.


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Correspondence to Jessica L. Doermann.

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Doermann, J.L., Kuligowski, E.D. & Milke, J. From Social Science Research to Engineering Practice: Development of a Short Message Creation Tool for Wildfire Emergencies. Fire Technol 57, 815–837 (2021).

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  • Wildfire
  • Emergency communication
  • Social science
  • Human behavior
  • Wireless emergency alert
  • Short message alert
  • Fire engineering