Expert Commentary

Tornado warning and response at a university campus

2010 study by Mississippi State University published in Natural Hazards on the effectiveness of a large university’s emergency warning system.

Many communities susceptible to dangerous events such as tornadoes have implemented systems to spread word quickly. In principle, the widespread use of Internet, mobile and computer technologies can better facilitate communication, and university campuses are interconnected in a way that make them an interesting case study in how rapid communication systems can be deployed.

A 2010 study by Mississippi State University published in Natural Hazards, “Tornado Warning Dissemination and Response at a University Campus,” reviewed the response to a tornado near-miss in January 2008 to determine the effectiveness of the warning system at a large university campus. Nearly 3,000 people on the Mississippi State campus completed the survey.

The study’s findings include:

  • The university’s initial emergency message, sent by cell phone, instant message and email, was received within 15 minutes by 66% of those surveyed.
  • Females were more likely to seek shelter than males, and employees were more likely to than students.
  • Almost 50% of students first heard about the possibility of severe weather from the university alert message (not from radio, TV or the siren). A further 20% of student respondents heard the first message from another person who received the university alert.
  • Only 8% of students and employees did not know about the possibility of severe weather until they heard the university siren ring.
  • The most common information avenue for students receiving the alert was their cell phones (74.5%), and overall less than 6% of employees and only 3% of students reported receiving the tornado warnings over the radio.
  • Almost a quarter of students reported trying to leave campus despite being urged to seek shelter. However, 73% of students and 81% of faculty ultimately took shelter.
  • Overall, less than 1% of the respondents reported having never heard from the emergency alert systems or siren, and 85% of respondents heard about the possibility of severe weather through the very first emergency alert message or from an earlier report.

Tags: disasters, technology

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