The Fuzzy Enterprise of Emergency Notification: Non-Coherence and Agential Realism in Wireless Emergency Alerts
Abstract: Crisis communication is messy. The initial moments of a crisis often involve confusion, uncertainty, and the need for rapid assessment. Emotions run high and decisions must be made quickly. For those tasked with managing and communicating about crisis situations, there is a continual tension between urgency and accuracy. How can people be made aware of potentially life-threatening situations quickly? Who needs to receive information? How can inevitable misinformation be corrected to maintain credibility? Warning people of potential and imminent emergencies is a fuzzy enterprise; yet, current approaches to emergency notification are attempting to streamline and standardize practices in order to improve efficiency. New technologies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are changing the way that complex messages are sent and received. At the same time new technologies are being introduced as tools for crisis communication, there is a growing recognition of the limits of these systems. Taking alerts and warnings away from a functionalist approach, modes of syncretism are explored to understand the ways in which non-coherence is practiced and present in the WEA system. Finally, embracing the non-coherence of the system, an agential realist perspective grounded in the intersections of space/place, time, and materialities is explored to offer a new paradigm for emergency notification.