In defense of the call-to-action

Dr. Chuck Doswell, one of the most well-known and respected severe weather researchers, wrote on his personal blog:

Personally, I believe telling people what to do, say via “call to action” statements (CTAs) is not a good idea.  What people need to do depends on their specific situations, about which we as forecasters know nothing! 

The latter part of his statement is true, as are his assertion that people need to develop their plans well ahead of time. But I strongly disagree that call-to-action statements are not important. 

Dr. Doswell is thinking like someone who has devoted his life to severe weather for decades. That makes sense, but it is not a mindset shared by the general public. Fundamentally, he misunderstands the purpose of call-to-action statements: they’re not for teaching people what to do, they’re for reminding people what to do.

In the middle of an emergency, it’s very easy to forget what you know. That’s why people train for scenarios repeatedly – to have responses be reflexive, not cognitive. Call-to-action statements serve to remind people in an emergency of the general principles of severe weather safety. The education about those principles and specific implementations must be addressed ahead of time.

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