Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Get access to severe weather warnings

By the Advocate Editorial Board
June 1, 2013 at 1:01 a.m.

Over the past few weeks, severe weather has surfaced across the country. With the beginning of hurricane season, we have encouraged our readers to prepare for the possibility of a major storm striking our area as well.

Last week's tornado outside Victoria raises another concern in terms of preparedness. It is true, residents should do all they can to prepare for any kind of weather disaster including tornadoes, which can show up anywhere, including during hurricanes. But in addition to personal preparedness, the government should also have a plan in place for potential disasters and emergencies. During last week's tornado warning, Victoria's emergency alert system was used, but we have some concerns about the results.

Several residents expressed concerns about the city's attempts to inform the public about the potential threat of a tornado. Some received a text message alert, others saw the warning on a television ticker, but some said they did not learn about the tornado until they saw pictures and information on Facebook after the incident was over.

This raises some serious concerns with us. We realize tornadoes can develop and dissipate quickly, leaving very little time for a warning, but this factor makes it so much more important to have an effective, comprehensive system that can reach out to residents across the city.

According to Jeb Lacey, emergency coordinator for Victoria, our community is especially prone to multiple kinds of disasters - from weather-related events such as tornadoes, hurricanes and floods to potential hazardous material incidents. Because of this, there are multiple ways to contact residents in the case of an emergency.

Victoria has a reverse 911 system, but because it uses 150 to 200 phone lines, it would take an hour and a half to two hours to call all of Victoria County's residents in the event of a disaster, which made it impractical for use during a tornado warning, Lacey said. Residents with cellphones can register their numbers with 211 to receive emergency alerts. Lacey stressed both the 911 and 211 systems use personal numbers exclusively for alerts and will not share them with solicitors.

In an emergency situation, especially one involving a tornado or other weather-related incident, television stations often display a warning of some kind. But some residents said they did not see any warnings during the Victoria tornado. According to Lacey, different television carriers can choose which alerts and messages they want to display, so if weather alerts were not provided, customers should contact their providers and express their concerns.

Not all residents have cellphones, especially senior citizens, and the television is not always on, so Lacey says the best option is for residents to keep a weather radio that is enabled with Specific Area Message Encoding, or SAME. This radio will issue warnings on multiple disaster situations from weather to hazardous materials and more.

"Any citizen should make the nominal investment and purchase a weather radio," he said. In a community with such a diverse possibility for disaster as ours, "it is just as important as a smoke detector."

We agree with Lacey's emphasis on the need for individual preparedness. We live in a time when technology is increasingly prolific, but so much of that technological access still depends on users subscribing to alerts. We encourage residents to take advantage of the systems offered and sign up for the 211 alerts as well as purchase a weather radio.

We also encourage our city and county leaders to continue searching for different ways to contact as many residents as possible in the event of an emergency. There are many more situations that can emerge besides a tornado, and it is imperative to be ready for anything. This time, the tornado missed us. Next time, the disaster could be much worse.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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