Departments of U.S. Emergency Management distribute informational and instructional messaging to its residents and communities before evacuation action is required. The majority of evacuation messaging in the United States use a map as a visual infrastructure to communicate instructions. Maps take a particular skill set to read and comprehend, yet data to support that maps were useful and were understood was non-existent. Data-supported visual communication, the practice of information design, has proven a successful approach in examining the appearance of information so that messages are memorable and comprehensible to intended demographics. The objective of information design is promoting clear communication between government and its communities, as well as agencies and the people they serve. Information design adheres to fundamentals that include participatory design methods, empirical and diagnostic benchmarks, and quantitatively measured outcomes.

Because community compliance and neighborhood response associated with evacuation behavior is rarely an individual and isolated process, the issues are systemic. Ineffective evacuation information attributes to delayed evacuation response. Delays increase demands on already extended emergency personnel, increase the likelihood of traffic congestion, and can cause harm to self and property.

In 2012, I approached Dr. Steve Schandler, Director of Chapman University’s Cognitive Psychophysiology Laboratories, to conduct a recall study of evacuation instructions. The objective of this study was to systematically evaluate evacuation information and improve the quality of content and recall of information. To date, we tested over 400 participants and three different presentations which included written, audio, and visual (map) instructions. Our research design included immediate recall after a 2-minute review, followed by a longer period recall of 24-hours. Compared to the other information presentations, the lowest retention of information in both scenarios were auditory instructions. Written instructions resulted in the greatest immediate recall. However, visual instructions (the map) produced the most stable performance at the 24‐hour retention period. With this data, I developed the visualization of tsunami maps and used transport mapping as the vernacular framework. The maps were designed specifically for the mass public with the intention of preparedness—education and training before a crisis. Since the development and refinement of this study in 2012, my work has been applied to 24 coastal cities in Southern California and received awards and support from government agencies and emergency management.