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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 17, 2014

Understanding Your Audience: How Psychologists Can Help Emergency Managers Improve Disaster Warning Compliance

Karla Vermeulen


As the field of disaster mental health has grown dramatically over recent decades, there have been many advances in universal interventions for disaster survivors and responders, but psychologists have had little involvement in helping to prevent harm by working with emergency managers to improve warning compliance. This opinion article summarizes insights about human behavior and decision-making processes that may help managers prevent common reactions to warnings, including denial of the threat that causes people to make unproductive preliminary judgments that are then reinforced through psychological mechanisms including confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance. Ways to understand this process from the citizen’s perspective are described, as are results of a survey of emergency and mental health professionals leading to four goals for warning construction: generating appropriate fear, rarity, clarity, and credibility.

Corresponding author: Karla Vermeulen, SUNY New Paltz, Institute for Disaster Mental Health, 600 Hawk Drive, New Paltz, New York 12561, USA, Tel.: +845-257-2333, Fax: +845-257-3474, e-mail:


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Published Online: 2014-9-17
Published in Print: 2014-9-1

©2014 by De Gruyter

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