Alerts & Notifications

Extensive Emergency Alerts, Yet Still Many Deaths from the Flooding in Texas

"Did stern Texas flood warnings go unheeded or unheard?" asks an article in The Christian Science Monitor.

by Rick Wimberly / May 28, 2015

An article in The Christian Science Monitor asks a good question: “Did stern Texas flood warnings go unheeded or unheard?” Strongly worded alerts were sent out via a number of alerting channels, yet at least 21 people died in flooding in Texas over Memorial Day weekend. (The death count may be higher by now.)  

The article acknowledges that major improvements have been made in alerting in the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. For example, now almost every cellphone in the nation is equipped to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. WEA messages were sent throughout the flood event. Radio and TV alerts were issued. Phone calls were made. Officials knocked on doors. Neighbors warned neighbors. Still, deaths occurred. Some of the possible reasons cited in the article:

  • residents received the alerts, but chose to ignore them and ride out the storm;
  • visitors may not have received the alerts;
  • alerts were issued after dark;
  • flooding is a particularly unpredictable type of emergency; and
  • the hardest hit area (Wimberley, Texas) had flooded before, so people may have been complacent after surviving other floods.

But there’s no way to know how many lives were saved because of the alerts. From The Christian Science Monitor article, “We were kept posted, posted, posted,” Gay Sullivan, a Wimberley homeowner, told WFAA-TV. “They were frantic, telling us it was coming … move to higher ground … it was coming.”

There's no doubt all of these reasons, and perhaps others, contributed to the situation. They all point to the fact that alerting is not the only piece of the puzzle. Education is another important one. People need help to understand the significance of all of these alerting channels and what they should do when they receive the alerts.

Improvements in the nation's alerting capabilities in recent years are impressive. The education part is not so impressive.