Social Identity in Emergency Communication

This morning I was pleased when I read the article “No more ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen’: positive step or nonsense?” in the newspaper. It is about the new wordings in public announcements at Dutch Train Stations. Instead of starting with ‘Dear ladies and gentlemen’, the messages will now start with ‘Dear travellers’. This is great! Why, you might wonder?

Well the article explains that these wordings stimulate everybody to feel included and thus welcome at the train station. It is a gender neutral message. I see even more in it. It is also a good preventive strategy for emergency situations. The wordings stimulate what is called social identity. The identity you can experience in a group, with others. At a train station you can feel connected to the other passengers, as you are all reaching the same goal of getting to your destination. In case of an emergency this social identity could stimulate people helping each other. For example, in a study from Drury et al., 2009, the researchers found that you are more likely to help another person during an emergency if you share a similar identity.

Me and my colleagues within the IMPACT project, have found different solutions for addressing social and cultural factors in emergency communication. Besides social identity, individual differences, language, universal signs and symbols and clear obvious landmarks are the main cultural factors to deal with in emergency communication. We have come up with 25 requirements for emergency communication for a multi-cultural crowd. We also have suggested multiple innovative solutions for these key issues, one of them being ‘addressing the social identity in public announcements’. See Report D4.1.

Enjoy travelling to work or home today and pay attention to your social identity. We are all humans, all travelling to a destination. When feeling connected with others, you can help each other better in case of emergency and it might also feel better in case of no emergency.

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