Friday, April 17, 2015

Emergency situation communication: When effectiveness backfires

This document was made by the West Virginia American Water company after the Freedom Industries chemical spill in January 2014. This document was given to residents to help them “flush” their plumbing systems to get rid of the contaminant in their tap water supply. For my critique, I will be analyzing the text and context surrounding this document, and discussing the effectiveness of the prose style.

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The textual analysis shows this document to communicate very effectively based on the elements used to get the point across quickly in an emergency situation. The water company, however, was not prepared for this event in terms of fixing the issue. This led to incomplete information being presented to the public as complete information. The residents were trusting of this document, and it turned out to be not entirely useful.

The document-maker did they best they could with what information they had, and what they truly thought was correct information was not. This was a learning experience for everyone involved, and these studies and considerations better prepare us for future incidents. The following is an in-depth analysis of the text and context.

Textual analysis


The three steps for how to flush your plumbing system have same structure:
Flush ALL hot water taps for 15 minutes
Flush ALL cold water taps for five minutes
Flush ALL remaining faucets and appliances
Putting the ALL in capital letters in each step puts emphasis on this instruction that every single one of the taps in the home need to be flushed. There is also paragraphs after each
step going into more detail that anyone who might not fully understand the main step would find useful.

Each of the paragraphs after the three steps also include some bolded text. The author bolded this text to emphasis it as important information, but there is also some parallelism between what is bolded. The words, “How to Flush Plumbing Appliances and Faucets,” is always bolded because it’s referring to another document and it keeps the formatting consistent. In the first two steps about flushing the hot and cold water taps, the following is bolded:
Run these hot water fixtures for at least 15 minutes. Shut off water after 15 minutes.
Run these cold water fixtures for at least five minutes. Shut off water after five minutes.
These have basically the same phrasing, only the temperature and the number of minutes is different.

This use of parallelism is useful for the author to get the point across as quickly as possible. Reading the same sentence structure over and over allows the reader to focus more on the content than on deciphering the meaning of a sentence structure.

Emphasis - Colors and bold

The heading of, “HOW TO FLUSH YOUR PLUMBING SYSTEM,” is in all capital letters and in green. This draws attention to it and makes it stand out to the reader as the title of the following information.

Each of the three steps are also in green text. This makes them stand out to the reader as well. If the reader were to only read a few things off the page, the writer wants these three points to be included in that, so they put emphasis on it.

Plain language

This document uses many words that are the “simpler” version of words that are more commonly used in the Official Style. An examples of this plain language is the following:
Please complete these steps in the order set out below. Finish each step completely before moving on to the next step.
Someone who is using the official style might say it this way:
It is advised that residents adhere to these instructions to their full extent in terms of
order. Accomplishing each instruction fully is recommended prior to considering the following instruction.
The first way is much more clear while it uses direct commands and words that are more familiar to the general public. Examples of those clear words would be “complete” rather than “adhere to” and “finish” rather than “accomplish”.

This document also uses a picture to show all the places in a home that should be attended to before they can be used again. Even though they already list everything, they also include a picture. This is appealing to both visual and textual people who might be reading this document.


The word “flushing” or “flush” is used throughout this document while referring to the protocol residents are advised to do. Because they always refer to it as the same thing, it leaves little room for confusion. The same idea can be said for the repetition of the


The readability data of an excerpt from this document is given below:

Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: 69.1
Average Grade Level: 8.2
Characters per word: 4.4
Words per sentence: 16.7

This data shows that this document is easy to read. The preferred reading level for most people is grade 7 and this document is very close to that at grade 8. As a document made for the public to get information as quickly as possible in an emergency situation, this readability information is appropriate.

Contextual analysis

Chemical spill at Freedom Industries in West Virginia occurred on January 9th 2014. The water company needed to get information about how to fix problems quickly. Residents told to flush system starting on Jan 13 and that after protocol was finished, they could use their water without any health issues. Effectiveness of flushing protocol in homes was never
monitored by water company for effectiveness of getting rid of contaminant. Effectiveness of flushing protocol never accounted for chemical volatilizing into air. Study from my previous critique showed that it was possible that the contaminant was not effectively removed from homes after flushing. It also showed that people were still experiencing contaminant-caused health issues after flushing protocol and Do Not Use order on public water were lifted. Possible reasons why this occurred, according to the study, include the water being flushed in being just as contaminated as the water being flushed out, so the level of contaminant never changed. Also, the study mentioned the possibility that the chemical could be volatilizing into the air and causing health issues. (STUDY:


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