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Effective communication depends critically on the sender and the receiver having a shared understanding of the meaning of the words or graphics that are used to exchange information. This is generally not a problem in every day face-to-face conversations where we can correct a misunderstanding right away—I seem to re-explain myself with “This is not exactly what I meant to say. Let me explain this differently,” fairly frequently. However, establishing this common understanding is extremely important for more technical information exchanges, especially when they are not face-to-face and we cannot follow-up right away. This is why the Observation Standards and Recording Standards (OGRS) is such an important document for the avalanche community.
Establishing this common language is more difficult in public avalanche risk communication, where forecast users do not need to take a course before they start using the bulletin even though some of the shared information is quite complex. Meanwhile, forecasters only get limited feedback on whether bulletin users interpret the posted information in the way it was intended to.
When designing our 2020 survey on the presentation of avalanche problem information, we were curious to learn more about people’s perception of the precision of the avalanche problem location information. As avalanche professionals, we know that when the bulletin talks about wind slabs on northwesterly to easterly aspects in the alpine that this is just a general guideline and that it is still possible to find wind slabs on other aspects. But how do recreationists look at this information? Do they also know the information in the bulletin provides just a rough indication of where the wind slabs are most prevalent, or do they think they only need to be concerned about wind slabs on these particular aspects and everywhere else things are fine?
Click here to access our article. You can access the entire issue of the Avalanche Journal of the Canadian Avalanche Association at https://issuu.com/theavalanchejournal/docs/caj_vol127.