USM professors research the effectiveness of wireless emergency alerts

USM professors research the effectiveness of wireless emergency alerts

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Two associate professors from The University of Southern Mississippi have spent the last four years researching the effectiveness of wireless alerts during natural disasters with different kinds of technology like smart phones, radios and televisions.

Associate Professors Bandana Kar and David Cochran collected data and surveyed local communities in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson Counties.

"We're focusing on identifying which technologies really worked and which don't and if they all work which the local communities wanted to use," Kar said.

They found that many people wished the messages sent to their smartphones were longer than the current 90-character limit.

"People wanted more information for instance when a specific hazards are happening," Kar said. "They want to find out where it is happening and what are the nearby shelters, might they evacuate."

Through surveys, the group found that most people trust the information on their phone, but their decision to leave their home is based on a variety of factors.

"The decision to act was based more on family and friends than on what the government agencies were telling them," Cochran said.

Kar said, "Especially those with the low income groups and low affordability."

Students involved in the project said the data collected can help to keep residents along the Mississippi coast safe.

"It gives us a way to target how to make the coast more resilient, whether it's through changing how the information is communicated or where that information is communicated," graduate student Nicole Callais said.

Cochran said, "People are getting information. The challenge is how we influence behavior to the most effective degree."

USM is one of 10 colleges to receive a grant from the Department of Homeland Security to explore the effectiveness of emergency alerts.