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ALERT!!! The New Wireless Emergency Alert System Won't Work!
Designers of the new federal system for sending emergency alerts to our cellphones devoted a lot attention to setting up the technical aspects, but not enough to figuring out what the messages should say. Research suggests those messages don't say enough to keep us safe.
Back in the hottest days of the Cold War, we’d be sitting around watching TV or listening to the radio and that eerie screechy tone would come on, followed by a message from an ominous voice.
"This is a test. For the next 60 seconds, this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test."
The announcer told us that “if this had been an actual emergency,” we would have been told what to do, and then normal programming resumed, and we forgot all about it. Thank God the announcer never had to tell us what to do. The system was created to alert us to nuclear war.
The government’s emergency-notification systems have come a long way since the '50s, morphing to keep up with changing technologies and changing threats. The newest component of that system, the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system debuted not long ago, and, wisely, it’s designed to contact us on our cellphones, since that’s how more and more of us communicate and stay connected. The problem is, the people who designed the system put a lot of thought into how to reach us, but too little thought into what their emergency messages should say. And some recent research suggests that as a result of focusing on the technology of the system, but not its content, the new cellphone-alert system won’t do what it is supposed to do: keep us safe.
The problem is the length of the message; 90 characters. That’s all, to tell you what’s happening, where, what you should do, how to get more information, and who is sending the message. The reason the message is limited to basically two-thirds of a tweet is that the law creating the system made participation for cellphone carriers voluntary. These companies paid zillions of dollars to license the frequencies they use. The cellphone companies want people to pay for transmission of their messages — not to give away some of the bandwidth they’ve licensed, for free. To get cellphone companies to participate at all (and a few of them still don’t), the federal government compromised on a message limit of just 90 characters.
Compounding that problem, the federal government spent years setting up the technical aspects of the system, but only just before it was to go into operation did they start paying attention to what the messages should be. I was one of several risk communication experts who offered general suggestions at a National Academy of Science symposium in 2010. And actual research of messages wasn’t done until the system was already up and running (it started in 2012). The findings from that research (which was conducted by START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and the Responses to Terrorism) are predictable; the messages have problems, and the biggest problem of all is that they’re too short.
Imagine if you saw this example.
“…this area”? Which area? “Avoid flood areas?” Where are they? And who is NWS?
Or this one message, tested in the research;
“Radiological hazard... ?” What’s that!? “... in this area ...” Which area? “Take shelter ...”? What does that mean? In a car, a building, a storefront, a basement? And who is US DHS?
Researchers showed test messages about "an active shooter," a weather emergency, and a radiological emergency, to hundreds of people. Most people said that in response to seeing that strange message on their phone, they’d wait and try to get more information. Study subjects said the messages probably would not prompt them to immediately take the suggested action. In the case of an actual threat, that delay would leave huge populations at risk.
Researchers suggested things that would help;
But mostly the research found that 90 characters just is not enough.
Shorter messages ... seem to be less effective at guiding people toward protective action taking
... limited length constrains public understanding of the message source; it is not immediately clear for some recipients whether the message is meant for them; the key content elements of guidance (describing what to do and how to do it) and hazard (describing why they should do it) cannot be adequately communicated
... consideration should be given to increasing the character limit of WEAs to a length that could optimize protective-action taking and technology constraints.
The Wireless Emergency Alert system is just one of many cellphone-based alert systems being established at local and state levels or by universities, companies, or other organizations (for a good summary, see here). They are all still working out many challenges; what sorts of emergencies should be included, how to make everyone aware of these new systems so the messages aren’t strange when they pop up on the phone, how to get every phone manufacturer and cellphone carrier to participate (not all phones are equipped to receive WEA messages.)
But the biggest challenge of all is to figure out how to word the message so it has maximum effect. Solving all the other problems won’t help much without effective messaging. Let's hope the research that found that 90 characters just won’t get the job done provides the federal government with evidence they can take to the cell phone carriers to allow for longer messages. And if the companies balk at providing more bandwidth, perhaps they should be required to, as part of the license the federal government grants for using public airwaves in the first place.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.