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Dr. Deborah Glik, FSPH professor of community health sciences, commented Sept. 19 in a FiveThirtyEight article about cellphone emergency alerts.
Millions of New Yorkers got alerts delivered to their cellphones Monday morning seeking information about a suspect in Saturday’s bombing in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood. The technology that enabled the instant mass message was 15 years in the making — and the alerts’ limitations show just how much further the country’s emergency alert system needs to go to deliver timely, useful, actionable information.
Reaction to New York’s alert on Monday was mixed. Bandana Kar, an associate professor of geography at the University of Southern Mississippi and co-author of a DHS-funded study of the alerts, called New York City’s Rahami alert “ill advised.” She thought it would encourage more people to opt out of getting the messages. On social media, some people criticized the alert as more likely to spread alarm than awareness.
But Brooke Liu, an associate professor of communications at the University of Maryland who has studied text alerts, said prior research into older alert systems has found that recipients rarely panic. The bigger concern often is that people ignore the message until it’s reinforced by other media, friends or family members.
Deborah Glik, another DHS-funded researcher of the alerts, said the use was appropriate. Alerts contain information validated by authorities, Glik, a public-health researcher at UCLA, said by email, “a good counterpoint to nonofficial messages on Twitter and other social media and /or news media.”