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Improving Public Alerts in Emergency Situations

Warnings will stimulate the auditory, visual, and tactile senses before, during, and after the chaos

Published: Monday, November 23, 2015 - 12:30

(ISO: Geneva) -- People at risk, be it from natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or other incidents in daily life, need to be able to take appropriate safety actions based on a proper understanding of the level and nature of the emergency.

Two recently published ISO standards will help organizations responsible for public warning at the local, national, or international level to put in place a structured emergency response informing a targeted risk population.

ISO 22322:2015—“Societal security—Emergency management—Guidelines for public warning,” provides guidelines for developing, managing, and implementing public warning before, during, and after incidents occur.

“Time to communicate is limited and often a specific message involving practical action has to be disseminated to a large group,” says Haruo Hayashi, project leader for the writers of ISO 22322. “Simple procedures that send the message efficiently and create the desired response can save lives, protect health, and prevent major disruptions.”

The purpose of an alert is to attract the attention of people in a developing emergency situation by stimulating the auditory, visual, and tactile senses so they will take appropriate safety actions and seek additional information.

The warning dissemination function should ensure that the alert gains maximum attention, taking into consideration the characteristics and conditions of the people at risk, including the requirements of vulnerable groups. ISO 22322 gives advice on aspects of public warnings, for example helping to select a warning channel such as TV, radio, telephone, newspapers, or loudspeakers to disseminate the information.

ISO 22324:2015—“Societal security—Emergency management—Guidelines for color-coded alerts,” provides guidelines for the use of color codes to inform people at risk, as well as first-response personnel, about danger and to express the severity of a situation.

Color-coded alerts are used to notify people of status changes on a safety or danger continuum and help them take appropriate actions. ISO 22324 will lead to a better understanding of color-coded alerts by reducing confusion and prompting more appropriate responses in an emergency situation.

ISO 22324 describes various colors and how they should be used. For example:
• Red is associated with danger and should be used to notify people at risk to take appropriate safety actions immediately.
• Yellow is associated with caution and should be used to notify people at risk to prepare to take appropriate safety actions.
• Green is associated with a safe status and should be used to notify people at risk that no action is required.

In addition, black, purple, blue, and grey may be used to provide additional messages, such as fatal danger, supplementary information, or when no information is available. For example, meteorological services use colored maps as early warning systems when announcing a storm and apprizing the population of the level of danger.

“ISO 22322, which provides guidelines for public warning, can be used in combination with ISO 22324 and other standards that are under development on topics such as business continuity management, organizational resilience, security management, and fraud countermeasures and control,” says Stefan Tangen, convenor of the communication group of ISO Technical Committee 292.

ISO 22322 and ISO 22324 were developed by ISO/TC 292 on security and resilience, whose secretariat is held by SIS, the ISO member for Sweden. The standards can be bought from your national ISO member or through the ISO Store.


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The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 162 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. ISO is a nongovernmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society. View the ISO Standards list.