Boiling Points: Formatting Boil Water Advisories

Health Canada recommends the Center for Disease Control (CDC) elements be used for a boil water advisory issued to the general public, including:

  • Description of the situation, the reason for the advisory, including contaminant(s) of concern and the contaminant level(s);
  • When the situation occurred;
  • Any potential adverse health effects from drinking the water (e.g., diarrhea);
  • Population affected, including subpopulations that may be particularly vulnerable if exposed to the contaminant in their drinking water;
  • Specific guidance on how to boil water, whether alternate water supplies should be used and, if so, recommended sources;
  • Other actions consumers should take, including when they should seek medical help, if known;
  • What the water system authority is doing to correct the situation;
  • When the water system authority expects to resolve the situation;
  • A central point of contact for additional information and where to seek updates as they become available; and
  • A statement encouraging the notice recipients to share the notice with other persons, communicate with neighbours and check on isolated or vulnerable individuals, where applicable.

When you consider patterns for reading content online, that’s quite a lot of information! So while it’s important to include details that are relevant, it’s also important to consider how to present them. And, as Nielson Norman Group notes in their user experience research findings on comprehension [] “if mobile users are important to you, be even briefer and simplify even more. The smaller viewport hurts comprehension because users can see little context at a glance and can’t easily refer back to previously read information.”

So how do we provide important, relevant details included in an alert like a boil water advisory, while still ensuring the content can be read and comprehended by our users? In Alertable, we leverage these techniques:

  • Break up info – we use headings and formatting to chunk content into scannable, digestible units
  • Collapse long content – on mobile we truncate long descriptions so users can see important sections at a glance, with the ability to expand the description to see more details
  • Use visuals – in our case, we use a map to visualize the areas affected. This provides a visualization of content, and also serves to further break up the alert content
  • Apply formatting – we break up safety instructions into a list to make the steps more readable. This is particularly beneficial for boil water advisories, since the steps to safely boil water should be followed carefully

Take care. Be prepared.

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