Literacy matters: Research by Dr. Tom Phelan

Literacy matters: Research by Dr. Tom Phelan

Communication technology has made it possible to disseminate urgent messages to the general public instantaneously. This is critical in the field of emergency management where impending damaging weather alerts and Amber Alerts can save lives and property. A study of websites of emergency management organizations, local and national, revealed a major gap between the readability of an agency’s homepage and the literacy levels of adults in their targeted audiences. In addition, skills in numeracy and computer-based problem solving were also far below the levels required to make good use of the material presented. United States statistics report that 14% of adults over age 16 read at the 5th grade level or below. 29% read at the 8th grade level or below. Yet a review of 40 plus emergency management website home pages revealed no readability levels below the 8th grade and most at the college level.

In order to realize the benefits of instantaneous messaging to the affected target audiences, those who craft the urgent messages must learn to compose at a level people can read and comprehend.  Otherwise, the value and contribution of media technology will be grossly underutilized in saving lives and property. 

Dr. Phelan has presented his research at the FEMA Higher Education Conference, the New York State Communication Association Conference, a National Fire Academy teleconference, and will present at the International Communication Association Conference in Fukuoka, Japan in June 2016. Dr. Phelan is currently facilitating HUMS661 - Risk & Crisis Communication at Royal Roads.