Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

General Guidance on Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings, 2nd Edition



Erica D. Kuligowski, Hidemi Omori


When a building emergency occurs, it is not always sufficient to simply initiate alarm bells. Individuals may not know what the alarm bell means and as a result may respond inappropriately to its sound. Many buildings have installed mass notification or emergency communication systems, based upon requirements provided in international codes and standards, that can be used to disseminate audible or visually-provided information in the event of an emergency. However, there is a lack of guidance on how to use current emergency communication systems in the most effective manner. For example, buildings often use these systems to disseminate pre-recorded, general emergency voice alarm messages that leave occupants wanting and needing further information before effectively responding. Especially as the use of newer technologies such as mobile devices or social networking tools grows, guidance on message content and dissemination becomes even more critical to ensure effective and safe response of building occupants during an emergency. The purpose of this report is to provide guidance to building managers and/or building emergency personnel responsible for emergency communication on how to create and disseminate messages using basic communication modes (audible vs. visual technology), as well as guidance on how to test the effectiveness of these messages. The guidance provided here is based on the review of 162 literature sources from a variety of social science and engineering disciplines (Kuligowski et al. 2012) and the prioritization of the specific findings extracted from each literature source. This document describes the process in which people receive and process information in order to take action during emergencies. Then, the document presents guidance on how to create and disseminate emergency information in the face of rapid-onset disasters – providing guidance on the dissemination of alert signals, the creation of the warning message, the formatting ...
Technical Note (NIST TN) - 1827
Report Number


emergency communications, emergency messages, tornadoes, earthquakes, fires, disasters


Kuligowski, E. and Omori, H. (2014), General Guidance on Emergency Communication Strategies for Buildings, 2nd Edition, Technical Note (NIST TN), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed April 18, 2024)
Created February 14, 2014, Updated November 10, 2018