Deaf Tweet-to-Teach Emergency Responders

The #demx research project of the November 9, 2011 national test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) uses Twitter to investigate whether emergency warnings reach the Deaf community in a timely and understandable manner.


All Communication Coordinators, First Responders, and everyone with duties in the Incident Command Structure as well as reporters, journalists, meteorologists, and news media editors, non-Deaf observers, and digital volunteers are invited to use the November 9th test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to participate in a social media communication experiment with Deaf citizens of the United States.

One of the stated goals of FEMA/Homeland Security’s first-ever, national-level test is to “identify any areas for improvements in the operation of the system during an emergency.”

The #demx research project investigates whether emergency warnings reach the Deaf community in a timely and understandable manner.

All officials involved in disseminating the warning are asked to Tweet about EAS activities specific to communicating with the American Deaf Community, using the Twitter hashtag: #demx

Deaf EMergency X

Using the label “Deaf Emergency” is itself a test to see if these words catch the Deaf eye better than current methods. The “X” stands for any variable: sometimes there is advance warning of an approaching hazard (such as a hurricane or winter storm), but part of what makes a crisis an emergency is that it happens suddenly and unpredictably: you do not know you are in danger, or why, until the disaster has already happened.

The practical outcomes of this research study are two-fold.

  1. Deaf persons will learn more about the emergency response infrastructure, including the need for self-responsibility for planning and preparing in advance.
  2. Emergency Managers, First Responders, and Volunteer Care Organizations will learn more about failures and successes with appropriate and adequate accommodations for communicating with Deaf citizens, including improvements to live captioning systems and the integration of professional sign language interpreters into long-term mitigation planning.

One-Way or Two-Way Communication?

While the EAS test is specifically designed to get the warning out, there are also serious concerns about how well First Responders engage Deaf individuals who have been harmed or are at risk of harm because of a disaster situation.

This research project is an effort to bring the needs of the Deaf community more clearly into view for visionaries within the field of Emergency Management.


3 thoughts on “Deaf Tweet-to-Teach Emergency Responders”

  1. The entire staff at my office saw the EAS test on a small portable TV off the air, tuned in to WJLA TV-7 in Washington, DC. It was a thirty second graphic showing the station logo and the fact that this is the EAS test – not an emergency. At first it was hard to see, then we noticed that there was a crawl. The white lettering blended in with the predominantly white/gray graphic slide so we barely could see the crawling text on the top left and right corners of the screen where it was a light gray. Bad contrast there. We took a picture and plan to send it to the station.

    Our secretary, Gloria heard the beeps but because the TV was small, she could hear the talking but not understand what was said.

    There was a small ten second promo showing the news anchors three minutes before the test but it was not captioned.


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