At thewxsocial.com, we’re frequently examining the struggle of communicating flood dangers. From Houston to Baton Rouge, we have pointed to countless challenges during heavy rain events that strand drivers and claim lives. Melissa Huffman submits several factors that may constrain action to areal and flash flood warnings like lack of familiarity with the flooded area, to being in a warning message restrictive setting like a vehicle. Perhaps it is all just disconnect from messenger to receiver. I have even suggested an alternate framing of the warning message to circumvent the “I can make it” mentality. But now, another city on the Gulf Coast is instituting a simple road sign that could become flood safety’s biggest ally since “turn around don’t drown.”
WWLTV’s Bill Capo reports that New Orleans Homeland Security Chief, Aaron Miller designed a sign to be placed at underpasses to warn drivers when a low-level roadway floods. The yellow sign will sit at street level with footage markers meant to convey water depth during heavy rain events.
The eloquence of the idea hearkens back to Dr. Susan Jasko’s blog that challenges one to think differently about weather communication, so not to limit the possible number of effective messages. In this case, a non-meteorologist addressed one of the most frustrating issues plaguing the weather enterprise. Having a sign indicate the exact level of floodwater arms drivers with a strong visual cue to make that choice to (hopefully) turn around.
A brief check of the risk perception literature will show that visual cues are one of the most powerful tools in warning reception and attention. From Mileti and Sorenson to Trainor and McNeil to Lindell and Perry we know that a person must perceive danger in order to abandon the “comfortable” decision such as driving forward as planned. People subconsciously battle against warnings, trying to perceive their environment as normal even while being told it is not. “I know this road, I drive it every day.” But there is no telling how fast the water is moving, or if the road is washed out below. Maybe the person has driven across a flooded street before and luckily made it through. So, environmental cues and visual confirmation of water depth may help to enhance the threat at hand. This imagery adds specificity to the weather message that may inspire the proper mitigating action.
Certainly, this is not an end all solution to flood deaths in vehicles, but it is one heck of a step in the right direction. Placing these signs in flood prone areas will afford drivers the opportunity to make an additional assessment of the situation, before deciding to push through or turn around. Yes, critics, we can argue that knowledge of water depth is pointless if the driver doesn’t understand that only two feet of moving water can float a car. However, such signage would be sufficient for a majority (I believe, optimistically) that can make rational, common sense decisions when given the chance.
Can we get these signs in every city? I don’t know. Can we get this idea in front of legislators as a (relatively) cheap flood safety step? It can’t hurt to try.
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