Smartphone applications for communicating avalanche risk information – a study on how they are developed and evaluated by their providers
Abstract. Every year, people are victims of avalanches. It is commonly assumed that one way to decrease those losses is to inform about danger levels. This paper presents a study on current practices in the development and evaluation of smartphones applications that are dedicated to avalanche risk communication. The analysis based on semi-structured interviews with developers of six smartphone apps highlights the context of their development, how choices of content and visualization were made and how their effectiveness is evaluated by the developers themselves. It appears that all these communicators agree on the message to disseminate and the general representation concepts (i.e., use of the international avalanche danger scale and of a tiered approach). However, the specific ways this message is presented (e.g., maps, icons) is not uniform. Moreover, only simple evaluation processes (e.g., usage monitoring) are conducted by the developers. However, they are well aware that further efforts need to be made in order to thoroughly analyze the effectiveness of the smartphone apps in terms of their real impact (e.g., increase in awareness or change in behavior). This work also highlighted that the smartphone applications are in transition from being one-way communication tools to becoming two-way communication platforms, with the possibility for non-experts users to report on snow and avalanche conditions. This paper indicates challenges that avalanche risk communication is facing, although it is indisputably the most advanced and standardized practice compared to communication tools for other natural hazards. In addition to being relevant for the avalanche risk communication community, this research is therefore of interest for scientists and practitioners working on risk communication related to natural hazards.