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A closer look at emergency
management websites
Emergency management websites need to be conscious of their audience and the readability
of their information when addressing the general public. adam crowe, MPA, has looked at
the situation with US-based sites for the first article in this series
mErgEncy managEmEnt and It must be noted that reading assessment
preparedness is an industry of tools like the ones used in this study, are
growing importance. Events such as not fool-proof. They are unable to take into
Hurricane Katrina, the Greensburg (Kansas) account contextual clues that may be included
tornado, the Asian tsunami and a growing in the website material and the diversity of the
list of terrorist events have bridged the intended audience. Such examples include the
gap between the public and professional many pictures and small information boxes
emergency managers and responders. that are commonplace on many websites.
Because of this increased awareness and Even though these website tools are inherently
importance among communities worldwide, built to try to simplify the message, they may
the public has played an increasing role in still contain words or phrases that are too
community mitigation and preparedness complicated or technical for the average person.
activities. To utilise this public involvement,
emergency managers universally use public po l y s y l l a b i c
websites to share information with the public. Unfortunately, the use of some technical
terms inherent to emergency management
Re a c h i n g t h e p u b l i c related hazards as well as representing major Information is nearly unavoidable. Words or phrases
How effective are public emergency metropolitan areas at every level of government. written for public such as ‘emergency’, ‘disaster’, ‘emergency
management websites at reaching and The main page of each jurisdiction’s consumption management’, ‘mitigation’, and ‘preparedness’
educating the public about hazards in the website was measured for readability using needs to be at the are fundamental to expressing the
community and how to prepare to respond two different types of assessment. While both approximate reading actions necessary to perform emergency
to them? Most public information and risk types were based on the average number of level of an 11 to 12- management. This importance is evidenced
communication experts stress that information polysyllabic words (more than three syllables) year-old pupil by the fact that an average of 29 per cent
written for public consumption needs to be per sentence, each evaluation was unique. of the polysyllabic words noted on the ten
at the approximate reading level of an 11 to The Flesch Reading Ease formula and the Fog websites surveyed were industry-specific.
12-year-old school pupil. While this seems Readability Scale used complex formulae which It is obvious that emergency management
overly simplified, it is critical to remember assessed whether or not the websites were websites are difficult for the general public
that a growing portion of every community at an easy, moderate, difficult, or advanced to read. By simplifying the language and
has special needs; such as limited language reading level. Conversely, the Flesch-Kincaid continuing to use engaging pictures and
capacity owing to non-native languages, Grade Level reading assessment used an shapes, the necessary – and needed
slowed cognitive ability, or limited education. intricate formula to estimate the actual – pieces of information, will be more
With these natural limitations identified, grade-school reading level necessary for effectively shared with the general public.
public emergency management websites were comprehension of the website postings. Emergency managers should be careful not
evaluated to determine whether they bridged Ultimately, the readability assessment to treat their websites as an afterthought, but
the gap between emergency management tools determined that the overwhelming rather as an effective tool for communication,
professionals and local residents effectively. majority, 70 to 80 per cent, of the surveyed education, and outreach.
Ten public emergency management websites emergency management websites were either
were selected for evaluation. Specifically, three moderate or difficult to read. Likewise, the
Au t h o r
cities (New York, Toronto and Las Vegas), two established reading levels ranged from grade
adam crowe is the Homeland Security Planner at
counties (Johnson and King), two regional five to grade 13 (which would be considered
the Johnson County (Kansas) Office of Emergency
areas (Kansas City Metro, Atlanta-Fulton university reading level) with an average of
Management and Homeland Security, USA. He
Co.), one State (Florida), one Province (Nova grade ten: equivalent to 15 and 16-year-old
holds a Masters Degree in Public Administration
Scotia), and one Federal agency (FEMA for school children. Only two of the ten evaluated
from Jacksonville State University and a degree in
Kids) were selected. These were selected for websites were deemed to be written at a reading
biochemistry from Clemson University
their diversity in geography, population, and level appropriate for the general public.
044.crj4.3.e-management.indd 44 23/5/08 12:27:28
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