National News

March 31, 2013

Tornado warnings vary by county


Notice too late

Typically, when people get warning that a tornado is looming they seek out confirmation through other sources, be it TV, the Internet or a family member, said Randall C. Duncan, who works with the International Association of Emergency Managers. That’s why it’s important government agencies work to notify residents in multiple ways, he said.

“If we can get an authoritative warning to the public through different mechanisms so that they hear the same warning from different sources, we can eliminate that confirmation behavior and get them to go to the action step,” said Duncan, who is also an emergency manager in Wichita, Kansas.

Many counties elect not to install sirens and instead favor new technology such as call-out systems as a means of notifying residents. But those also have flaws. A few counties, like Hall, use call-out system that sends warning calls to every registered landline in the county, but most call systems are voluntary and require residents sign up for email, text or phone alerts.

However, the service isn’t always widely used or known about. Fulton County with its 978,000 residents has about 307,750 numbers registered to its call out service. Cobb has 249,845 numbers registered in a county of about 707,000.

DeKalb County, where in 1998 a tornado hit Dunwoody causing an estimated $25 million in property damage, says when it tested the county’s voluntary call-out service, some people quit. The county of about 707,000 has about 240,000 numbers registered for the service, and says it plans to educate residents more about the benefits.

“With technology, we’re a lot more nimble and able to reach anyone and everyone who wants to be reached,” said DeKalb spokesman Burke Brennan. “There’s a new normal. I think the future is with the technology.”

On newer cell phones, wireless companies are now sending out emergency alerts that will be broadcast by nearby cell phone towers. Residents won’t have to rely on the county’s participation, and they won’t need to sign up or download an app. They will automatically receive emergency alerts depending on their location.

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