Monday, December 10, 2012

When The Levee Breaks

It is striking to see the damage a natural disaster can have on a country. It is almost impossible to be unaware of the damage hurricane Sandy (which reached the continental US October, 2012) has caused. Even in our 

country where we have many groups and organizations aside from government and state agencies, not to mention a very well planed infrastructure, after a week of the storm’s official dissipation millions of people were still without electricity.  
While a natural disaster cannot be stopped by any human being, its affect on the lives and property of humans can be mitigated. While all knowledge of these crisis situations is potentially beneficial, when the sky becomes black it is not time to try and learn how, for example, a hurricane builds over warm water. When a natural disaster is imminent it seems most expedient to know how to prepare, and how to act. 
Preparation and action is the focus of the Ready text on hurricanes. This text is one of many which Ready distributes through via the television, radio, print and web.  Ready and the Ready Campaign were created in 2003, which describes itself as “a national public service advertising… campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters”. With a self set goal of “get(ting) the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation.” According to their website, Ready works with other large organizations including the Red Cross and The Humane Society of The United States, and both works and publishes material for the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
In my opinion, a good response to any situation is somewhat dependent on who a person is. Therefore, Ready a national organization, must acknowledge that there are multifarious responsibilities and concerns for people in this country. Furthermore, it seems wrong and even dangerous to make assumptions without having evidence or knowledge to back it up. In a crisis situation it is not prudent, nor responsible to assume that a person with little or no computer and web skills, for example, would never seek this sort of information online. It is this particular fictitious case, as well as others, that a creator of a text (like the text I have chosen) will have to consider.
However, for the creator, the exigency of these crisis situations demands that they understand the who in a particular manner. While some information producing places might restrict understanding of who to “Young Adults” or “Pet Lovers” the user of this, and related texts, will need to be more carefully considered- for Ready web traffic to its sight is not an indication of how successful this or another text is. Therefore, while every individual situation and user’s needs are impossible for a creator to anticipate, in order to fulfill a goal of educating, informing and preparing the creator(s) must understand their users and must understand how their needs can be met.
Because this text must keep in mind such a wide audience of users coupled with the fact that it’s information literally might be the difference between life and death this text is going to have to be very accessible. While Ready prides itself on covering a range of mediums, I will speak only on the accessibility of WebPages .
My primary focus is sentence elements; however, I think that users will appreciate the way which the information is structured. For example, my particular text concerns itself with the time frame “before a hurricane”, and within this webpage are easily accessible tabs entitled During (The Hurricane) and after. Within these three texts the information is ordered using the bullet point, in a way where a person might literally cross off what the text suggests they do when they complete a task.
On the sentence level, the text provides information in short and focused sentences, and the raw scores also point in this direction (Readability scores: 68.1 (F.K Reading Ease) 7.7 (SMOG) 8.9 (Average). I found that the ease of reading in this text reminded me of writing that we see on, for example, car seats and hair curlers. For these sorts of things, there is a paramount interest that (whatever it is) not only provides information that many people can understand, but actually provide justification for what it suggests. In the same way that an adult is startled to read how putting a young child in a car seat in the front seat can result in death, readers in this text are prompted with lines like “prevent(s) windows from breaking” to not only justify, but prompt a person to follow out the suggestion Be sure trees and shrubs around your home are well trimmed”. It is my belief that a reader can easily skim over things a text suggests, but a sort of pathos tactic is very effective to prompt action. For example, making the readers imagine what glass flying around their house might result in could very likely stimulate them to board up windows. While this and related texts run the risk of users thinking “how dumb do you think I am” minor alienation, I would think, is not a great concern.
In all cases of a person seeking information, they run the risk of finding confusing or downright misleading information in their search.  It seems that the text I have chosen does a fine job of directing readers toward this text, as well as having the user stay on their website for related information. For example, links can be found to this particular page on NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and through FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency). On the other hand, the text functions in a way to direct readers who seek information as diverse as evacuation, food safety and insurance information to texts within its own website. In other contexts, such as websites that are created and maintained by for profit companies (notably and have no (or no easily found) link to this text, but rather include their own information, as well as provide links that ensure users stay on their site. While the goal of the governmental websites and dot com websites share a similar interest of keeping users on their websites, the flashing adds on the dot com website’s pages leads me to believe that their goals (user traffic to name one) certainly influence their texts.
While I am unable to fully explore some relevant questions, it is interesting to wonder why the government needs to create these projects if dot com and for profit companies might provide the same information. While I cannot provide evidence for my claims, it seems to me a necessity that a text dealing with this sort of subject matter should focus only on what the users needs, and find exactly why a user has this need. In my mind, a government agency expected to fulfill needs of people, while it is usually the role of a for profit company to, for example, create the “ home rebuilding force” when the crisis has abated. On the same note, I can imagine a person becoming angry that a dot com website provided information that turned out bad- but I would expect a stronger response from people if the information from a governmental agency was “bad”.
David A. Stilin 

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