My summer internship on messaging a sensitive and complex topic — pediatric vehicular heatstroke

Lily Muller researched how to create accurate and effective warning communication products about pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths

Hi everyone! My name is Lily Muller, and I am a 2021 Hollings Scholar, and Meteorology and Atmospheric Sciences student at Penn State University Park. Growing up in the D.C. area, I experienced all kinds of weather that sparked my interest in meteorology.  With hazardous weather like winter storms, tropical systems, and thunderstorms came safety and property risks. I began to learn that messaging is really important in determining how people react to different weather hazards.

Lillian and Ryan stand next to each other in front of a National Weather Service building and sign that reads "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service, Louisville Weather Forecast Office." Lillian is holding a certificate of recognition.
Lillian Muller, a 2021 Hollings Scholar, in front of the National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Louisville with one of her mentors, Ryan Sharp. (Jessica Lee)

This is why I chose to work on a complex and sensitive messaging project at the National Weather Service Louisville Weather Forecast Office. I worked on improving the National Weather Service’s pediatric vehicular heatstroke death messaging. During my project I got to meet and work with pediatric vehicular heatstroke experts, social scientists, and messaging experts who all helped me to shape my new messaging to be both accurate and effective. I learned how important it is to be careful when choosing your main points, wording, and appearance of things like social media graphics because it can have a huge impact on how your audience perceives the topic.

During my project I got to meet and work with pediatric vehicular heatstroke experts, social scientists, and messaging experts who all helped me to shape my new messaging to be both accurate and effective.

Lily Muller, Hollings scholar, class of 2021

Aside from my project, I got the opportunity to learn a lot about how a National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office operates. I was able to shadow forecasters, work severe weather events to issue local storm reports, visit the radar, go on a hydrology trip, tour Louisville’s Standiford Field air traffic control tower, and attend an impact decision support services meeting at Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby. I also really loved exploring Kentucky, from the rich history and great food in Louisville to the beautiful national parks and hiking trails in eastern and central Kentucky.

A few of Lillian's "Look before you lock" safety campaign images for social media
Text on a graphic that reads "over 900 children have died inside hot vehicles since 1998. The inside of a car heats up very quickly and death can occur within 10 minutes. Children's bodies heat up 3 to 5 times as fast as healthy adults. It is never safe to leave a dependent in the car, not even for a minute. Look before you lock. weather.gov/heat. Source: National Safety Council
Lillian designed several graphics for the "Look before you lock" campaign on social media. (Lillian Muller | National Weather Service Louisville)
Text on an image that reads: "Children should never be left in a car, no matter the time of year. 34% of children have died in a hot car outside of the summer months, be on alert year round. At least one child has died in a hot car during each month of the year. Vehicular heatstroke can occur when outside temperatures are below 70 deg. F. Look before you lock.
Lily designed several graphics for the "Look before you lock" campaign on social media. (Lillian Muller/National Weather Service Louisville)
Text on an image that reads: Don't leave anyone behind in a hot car. Move an important item to the backseat to remind you of any passengers, Move a stuffed animal to the front seat as a reminder to check for passengers when you leave, set a reminder on your phone to remember your passengers when you arrive. Look before you lock. weather.gov/heat"
Lillian designed several graphics for the "Look before you lock" campaign on social media. (Lillian Muller/National Weather Service Louisville)
Headshot of Lillian
Lillian Muller, 2021 Hollings scholar

Lily Muller is meteorology and atmospheric sciences major at Penn State University Park.