In 2017, a survey conducted in the United States showed that 99% of those who make $75,000 a year own a phone. Of that 99%, 93% of them own a smartphone. When looking at incomes less than $35,000 a year, the percentage of those who own smartphones significantly decreases. In today's digital era, we are vastly connected to our phones and expect our phones to give us information about severe weather events when they happen. But what happens when telecommunication lines go down and someone is unable to receive those warnings and has no other way of receiving a warning? What if that person is a part of the 29%, 21%, or 13% who may own a phone, but not a smartphone? If that person is in that percentage range then they may not even receive an alert on their phone unless they are signed up for text-based alerts. Because of this, we will discuss 5 different ways that someone can receive a warning during severe weather events.
1. Weather Radios
Since the late 1950s, weather radios have saved countless lives. On May 20th, 2013, a violent EF-5 tornado destroyed Moore, OK, tragically killing 24 people, 7 of those children. Jonathan Fisher, a manager at a bowling alley in Moore had absolutely no cellphone data, however, he had a NOAA weather radio that alerted him and 4 other employees that a devastating tornado was headed their way. This allowed them to evacuate the building and find better shelter before the tornado destroyed the bowling alley. Just before 12 AM on April 14th, 2012, a tornado developed to the Southwest of Woodward, OK. A lightning strike had knocked out power to the town prior to the tornado forming. This meant that TV signals, tornado sirens, and etc were gone from the
town. 87-year-old Wilma Nelson usually relied on tornado sirens during severe weather events, but because the power was out and she was asleep nothing was there to warn her of the incoming danger. However, she did own a NOAA weather radio that was battery-operated. This weather radio went off immediately after the warning was
issued and Wilma Nelson immediately woke up and ran to her closet where she rode out the violent tornado. These are just two of over a thousand success stories that have come from people owning a weather radio. You can typically find weather radios for sale at your local hardware store or big box store. They can range anywhere from $30 to $70 depending on the type of radio you purchase. If you are unable to afford a
weather radio at that price point then consider looking on Facebook Marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, and etc as you can usually find them for much cheaper. Just make sure that they do in fact work and have no defects. Most weather radios have S.A.M.E technology which allows you to set the counties that you want to be alerted for during severe weather events. This means that your radio is not going to go off for warnings in
counties that you did not select, minimizing the false alarm ratio. Depending on the brand and or model you purchase you may also be able to choose what warnings you want to be alerted for.
2. Television and Radio
Both television and radio stations play a vital role during severe weather events. Television and radio stations will often relay information about a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch. During severe weather, a broadcast meteorologist will cut into TV programming and update those in the warned area on the impact that the storm may have. Radio stations commonly take the audio from these broadcasts and overlay them on their radio station to give those who may be without TV the information they need.
While both television and radio are great options, television tends to be the better option because the meteorologist can display graphics and show the viewer current doppler radar images, video, and or photos of the severe weather, and damage that it may have caused. All of this will make the viewer more inclined to act because they have visual confirmation.
A survey conducted in the United States found that over 98% of adults have some form of social media, whether that be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. The internet can be a good way of receiving information about severe weather events but if you intend on using the internet for severe weather updates make sure that the source is a verified source such as your local National Weather Service office, local or
state Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Police Department or News Station. The reason why it is important to verify the source before using it is that some sources may exaggerate events and cause the end-user to go into a panic over something that may not even impact them or may be a very marginal risk. Anyone can create a social media page and start sharing information without being a credible source.
This is why it's very important to verify your source first before using the information. As stated above, the internet can be a good way of receiving information, but the internet should not be your only source of information as typically the information is put out by people who may be busy dealing with other tasks, rather than an automated system.
4. Text-based alerts
Text-based alerts such as "AlertNorman" in Norman, OK, will send those who have signed up for the alerts information when severe weather is occurring. Most large cities and college campuses have alert systems like these in place to alert citizens during any type of hazardous event. These can be very beneficial in the event that you do not receive a WEA alert. Text-based alerts such as these can also help you alert someone who may not be aware of the situation at hand because you will have the ability to forward the message directly to them. If this type of alerting system is not available in your area
then make sure to have Wireless Emergency Alerts turned on so that you can receive warnings on your phone. This works because of a system put into place by FEMA called IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert & Warning System) that sends out information about warnings to your TV, phone, and weather radio. When this alert is sent to your phone it will look similar to the alert pictured to the left. The message will be no more than 360 characters.
5. Outdoor sirens
Tornado sirens are meant to alert those who are outside when impending severe weather threatens their life. Tornado sirens are not meant for those who are travelling in a car or are inside. This is because the insulation in your home inhibits tornado sirens from being heard inside, especially when an area is experiencing heavy rain and severe winds. Tornado sirens are generally manually activated by an Emergency Manager or
city/county official. Tornado sirens can lose power during severe weather events as mentioned above during the Woodward, OK, tornado, and have become less useful due to new technology. With this in mind, they are still a recommended way of receiving a warning because they are extremely useful to those outside who may be away from TV, radio, cellphones, and the internet.
About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director for Tillman County Emergency Management and is an Oklahoma Emergency Management Association member.