CACP Researcher Receives Grant to Study Inclusive Emergency Alerts

Cell phone emergency alerts

Posted August 4, 2022

Salimah LaForce, a research scientist at the Center for Advanced Communications Policy (CACP), has received a $109,000 award to study the reach and impact of Wireless Emergency Alert messages among people with disabilities.

Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages are geographically targeted alerts similar to texts that are sent to cell phones to warn users of threats such as hazardous weather, as well as Amber Alerts about missing children. Cities, state emergency management agencies and other authorized alerting agencies send the messages. The funding to study the messages’ reach comes from the Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center, a federally funded research and development center operated by the RAND Corporation.

LaForce and collaborators Dara Bright of CACP Georgia Tech Center for Advanced Communications Policy and Johan Rempel from the Georgia Tech Center for Inclusive Design and Innovation will work with the RAND center to collect data on how well WEA messages reach people with disabilities during testing. They intend to find out how many cellphone users received test messages, what language it was in, and other information. They will especially look at information such as race and ethnicity, language, and disability to determine whether those factors affect the ability of cell-phone users to receive timely emergency alerts in a format accessible to them.

As part of the project, LaForce is recruiting people with disabilities interested in contributing feedback about the WEA messages.

“It’s crucial that wireless emergency alerts be delivered equitably to all WEA-capable mobile phones regardless of the cost of the device or type of carrier. This research will give federal regulators more information about how well WEA messages are reaching users with disabilities, rural populations,  people with low incomes, and other minoritized populations and enable  CACP to further our goal of fostering digital equity.”

The RAND-operated center sought out CACP for this project because of its experience with emergency communications access for persons with disabilities, the design of accessible survey instruments, and reaching populations with physical, cognitive, or language-based limitations and non-English speakers, among others, according to LaForce.

CACP, affiliated with the School of Public Policy and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, has been evaluating communications since 2004 and wireless emergency alerts since that system’s establishment in 2012. The Center has shared its expertise through policy briefs, reports, submitted congressional testimony, and more.

The Homeland Security Operational Analysis Center researches and analyzes projects to prevent terrorism, safeguard cyberspace, and strengthen national preparedness and resilience, among other topics.

Additional Image

Salimah LaForce

Contact For More Information

Michael Pearson
Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts