Timely Alerts and Warning

Sometimes, legacy systems are still the best option.

by Eric Holdeman / October 24, 2016

Chuck Wallace is the emergency management director for Grays Harbor, Wash. He walks in the shoes of the majority of smaller jurisdictions that have few resources, small to nonexistent staffs, and a list of hazards that can fill a page. He took the time to share the text of one of his messages that he provided to his community, relating it to a recent storm that threatened his county. 

As you can see, he is a strong supporter of NOAA Weather Radios. It was not that long ago that the National Weather Service enhanced their system to also broadcast/relay Emergency Alert System messages (EAS) which is great, considering today's world of people getting their music from places like Pandora or Spotify.  

For a few months of what you pay for an Internet radio/music service you can own a radio that wakes you up in the night or gets your attention during the day when an alert is issued for where you live.

Note that Chuck is also the current president of the Washington State Emergency Management Association (WSEMA).

WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE ISN’T TIME TO WARN YOU?

By Chuck Wallace

One of the greatest fears of any emergency manager is not being able to warn the public about an event that is imminent — such as a tornado. The severe storm on Friday almost brought that fear to reality for me.

At 4:26 a.m. Friday morning Oct. 14, 2016, the National Weather Service in Portland sent the first of four (4), tornado warning messages for Pacific County, Wash., and the first of 10 tornado warning messages for southern Washington and parts of Oregon.

This particular message was for areas around Ilwaco, but I began to think how many people didn’t receive the message because they were asleep and had no All Hazard Weather Radio to alert them of a possible impending disaster event.
The second message at 6:37 a.m. Friday really frightened me. The tornado warning included Tokeland, Wash., which is just a short distance from our county line, close to the city of Westport and the community of Grayland. The warning provided a 20-minute parameter when a potential funnel cloud could impact the area.

How would we warn the public if the next message included our jurisdictions? We do not have tornado sirens and if we activated the All Hazard Alert Broadcast Sirens (AHABs) along the coast, it could prompt citizens to begin moving toward higher ground, (to escape a suspected tsunami), exposing them to the wrath of the tornado without any protection from the winds and debris. Besides, the AHABs are for outdoor notification only.

We have a robust notification system to call, text and email citizens of an approaching hazard, but if they were sleeping, I doubt many would receive the text message or the email message. Depending which jurisdictions were chosen to receive the warning message via phone call, there might not be time to complete the calls prior to a tornado impact.

According to a 2013 Survey conducted by Grays Harbor County Emergency Management, only 40 percent of our residents volunteered to sign up for the Grays Harbor County Emergency Notification System. The All Hazard Weather Radio, probably the fastest and most efficient notification device to warn of imminent danger, is only owned by 38 percent of our citizens. How do we alert the other 62 percent of our population of an approaching disaster?

An All Hazard Weather Radio is the fastest and most efficient way to receive imminent emergency and disaster messages. Every government office, school, local business and home should have one to alert all of the possibility of an impending disaster event such as tornado, flash flood, distant tsunami, severe winds and weather. They can be purchased at local hardware stores, Walmart or online for between $20 and $50 — a small price to protect your family, friends and pets.

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