Giving Attention: Reflections on Severe Weather Warnings and Alerts on Mobile Devices

November 2017 (VOL. 35, NO. 3)

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Smartphones are an increasingly important channel through which to issue weather alerts and warnings. Yet it is important to consider the nature of these devices and the implications for alerts and warnings. Alerts have traditionally been designed to get the attention of recipients while warnings provide the information needed to decide if it is necessary to take protective action. Smartphones are distinct from traditional channels in that they do both. They can be incredibly effective at delivering alerts and are also able to deliver multiple streams of warning information simultaneously to a single person. Our work suggests that this reality can result in information flow fatigue if these message systems are not properly designed. In a process which we describe as setting up jigs, smartphone users report the importance of restricting or prioritizing information using their phone settings or even turning off notifications or shutting down their phones at specific times and places. Our analysis of focus group discussions concludes that storm alerts and warnings delivered through smartphones must prioritize personalized settings and messages that help recipients filter the information they want to give their attention to rather than designing them to forcibly get people’s attention.