United States
 Environmental Protection
                                                         Office of Policy
May 2011
                                 Assessing the Effectiveness of the Beaches
                                 Environmental Assessment and Coastal  Health
                                 (BEACH) Act Notification Program
  Fact  Sheet
For more information on this and
other completed evaluations at
EPA or the Evaluation Support
Division, visit the above link.

  Since 2002, EPA has made available approximately $10 million in grants per year
   to eligible coastal and Great Lakes states, territories, and tribes through the
   Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act.  The grants
   are to develop and implement programs to monitor water quality at coastal and
   Great Lakes' beaches and to notify the public when water quality problems exist.
  The EPA beach program and EPA's Office of Policy, Evaluation Support Division,
   sponsored this  program evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the notification
   component of the BEACH Act program.

Evaluation Questions

  How are grantees using BEACH Act funding to notify the public of beach
  Which notification methods are the most effective in reaching the public?
  How has beachgoers' awareness of beach advisories and closures, understanding
   of water quality risks, and beach visitation behavior changed in response to

Evaluation Methods

  The evaluation  used several methods to answer the evaluation questions:
   o   A review of past studies and the relevant literature;
   o   The collection of new data through interviews with state, tribal and local beach
       managers and other stakeholders; and
   o   Development of site-specific case studies to explore selected aspects of the findings in
       greater detail.

Key  Findings

  How are grantees using BEACH Act funding to notify the public of beach

  States and local beach programs use a combination of methods to notify the public
   about beach water quality, with the various methods typically complementing and
   reinforcing each other. On  average, the states and localities interviewed for this
   evaluation used more than  four different notification methods, some of which (e.g.,
   signs) are targeted to beachgoers at the beach, and others (e.g., websites) are
   targeted to potential visitors before they travel to the beach.
  State, tribal, and local beach programs reviewed in this evaluation all use websites
   as part of their notification programs and all but one post signs at their beaches.
   After websites and signs, e-mail outreach and press releases are the next-most
   common notification methods.  Several states and local beach  managers use social
   media (e.g., Facebook and  Twitter) as a means of expanding the reach of
   traditional notification methods.

  How are grantees using BEACH Act funding to notify the public of beach conditions?

   In addition to notifying the public about advisories, several states and local beach managers conduct
    general outreach and education efforts to raise public awareness of water quality issues.  Some
    states also conduct trainings for local beach managers about monitoring and notification issues.

  Which notification methods are the most effective in terms of reaching the public?

   Overall, the evaluation finds that a combination of notification methods is necessary to reach the
    largest possible share of the beachgoing public.

   Beach signs, the Internet, and television are the most common ways beachgoers learn of beach
    advisories or closings.  Given the large size of the target audience, it can be difficult for beach
    notifications  to reach the majority of beachgoers.

   Beach managers are increasingly using social networking tools (e.g.,  Facebook and Twitter) to
    expand the reach of their notification. However, social networking tools typically only reach
    subscribers.   Traditional media approaches (e.g., press releases to local television stations and
    newspapers) can also help  extend the reach of notification messages.

   In addition to selecting a range of appropriate notification methods, it is important to craft the
    notification methods within the context of an overall risk communications strategy. As a part of
    developing this strategy, it is necessary to  identify the goal of the program (i.e., to inform or to
    influence the public), identify stakeholders, and earn the trust of key stakeholder groups.

   An analysis of beach advisory signs and websites for states and localities reviewed in this evaluation
    suggests that there is no standard format used across the country. The content and wording of
    messages, as well as the level of detail and contextual information provided, varies widely.  Part of
    the reason for this diversity  may be that beach programs tailor the content and format of their
    communications based on their target audiences (e.g., residents vs. tourists) and based on the goal
    of the communications (e.g., to inform vs. to influence beachgoer behavior).

   While it is not possible to directly contrast the effectiveness of one approach versus another, some
    features of signs and websites are likely to be relatively effective in informing and influencing
    behavior, based on comments from  interviewees and the literature. The evaluation identified good
    practices for beach signs and websites (Exhibit 1).
                      BEACH SIGNS                                BEACH PROGRAM WEBSITES
        Use large signs, placed in a prominent
        Convey meaning using widely-recognized
        symbols and icons, along with simple text.
        Explain the cause of the advisory or closure.
        Highlight consequences of water contact and
        provide advice on activities that may be
        Use a scale to communicate the severity of
        the risk (e.g., colors commonly associated  with
        increasing risk levels such as green-yellow-
        red scale).
        Translate text into relevant languages for
        residents and visitors.
        Identify the agency responsible  for the
        List other sources where beach users can
        obtain additional information.
Summary information on the program home
page or through a clearly identifiable link.
Status of each beach (selected from a list or
map) or list of all beaches under advisory.
Ability to search for current status and history.
Information about the day the beach was last
sampled and frequency of monitoring.
Clear indication of the implication of the testing
results (e.g., beach open, closed, or under
Explanation for the cause of any advisories
and testing methods.
Information about health consequences to
beach users and advice on activities that may
be unsafe.
Simple, direct language, translated into
languages relevant to key audiences.
Links to other sources where beach users can
obtain additional information.
Information about beaches other than water quality
(e.g., weather and beach amenities) to draw
visitors to the beach website.

  To what extent do notifications affect the awareness of beachgoers?

   Research on beachgoer awareness is limited. Prior studies indicate varying percentages of
    beachgoers who are aware of notifications.
    o  For beach signs, for example, public awareness ranges from 2% to 54%, depending on the
       survey.  Awareness of the existence of any notification  method tends to be higher; for example
       one survey found that 65% of residents and 45% of non-residents were aware of at least one
       source of information on water quality.
    o  Posting signs at the beach is crucial, since it is estimated that only 20% of beachgoing survey
       respondents check for information about water quality before visiting a beach.
   Findings suggest that simply making sure beachgoers see signs and hear about other notification
    methods prior to visiting a beach may be the greatest challenge for beach managers.
  To what extent do notifications affect the understanding of beachgoers?
   Very little data are available on the extent to which notifications affect beachgoer understanding of
    risks. A few studies tested beachgoer understanding of beach signs in particular; these studies
    suggest that the signs reviewed do communicate messages effectively to the public.
  To what extent do notifications affect the behavior of beachgoers?

    Studies that consider factors influencing beachgoer behavior suggest that beach advisories influence
    some members of the public in avoiding contact with water at a beach under an advisory.
    Analysis of beach attendance data collected at one beach suggests that there is a relationship
    between beach advisories and the number of beachgoers at this site, and that other factors such as
    season, day of the week, weather, and water temperature are also  important influences on beach
    Beach managers interviewed for this evaluation note that an unknown proportion of individuals
    choose to engage in water contact recreation (e.g., swimming, surfing) even when advisories are in
    Reasons that individuals choose to contact the water when an advisory is in place,  include not only
    being unaware of the advisory, but also other factors such as lack of understanding of the potential
    health consequences, lack of access to alternative beaches, or individuals' attitude toward risk (belief
    that they will not get sick).
  Additional Findings

   There are very limited data that can provide a foundation for a comprehensive evaluation of beach
    notification programs. While a few programs have conducted targeted studies to identify areas to
    improve, most programs have not conducted such research, and no programs have conducted a
    series of studies overtime to assess changes in behavior as the beach notification programs evolved.
   The scarcity of data on the effects of beach notification substantially limits an evaluation of the
    outcomes or effectiveness of beach notification programs. Additional research in the form of surveys
    of beachgoers, tracking attendance records, and observational studies (all of which were outside the
    scope of this evaluation) would help assess program effectiveness.
   Interviews with state, tribal, and local beach program managers suggest that funding is a limiting
    factor, and therefore the paucity of primary research may be due to lack of resources to gather data.

Overall, this evaluation found that:
   Beach notification programs use a complementary suite of notification messages.
   The content and format of beach notification messages varies, and examples drawn from states and
    localities suggest good practices.
   Notification messages reach only a fraction of beachgoers, but social networking tools, as well as
    traditional media, can expand the reach of these messages.
   Public awareness of beach advisories varies; but beachgoers who are aware of signs often find them
   Beach advisories appear to have some effect on behavior, but other factors may predominate.
   Beach notification programs have evolved based on experience, but little systematic evaluation of
    program effectiveness has been completed.

   John Heffelfinger, Office of Policy, Evaluation Support Division, heffelfinger.iohn@epa.gov
   Richard Healy, Office of Water, Office of Science and Technology, Standards and Health Protection
    Division, healy.richard@epa.gov

Report Link: http://www.epa.gov/evaluate/reports.htm

Date  Completed: May 2011