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Region's emergency officials urge benefit of new warning systems

Officials urge high-tech alerts

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Tornado sirens and television alerts have lost their appeal. Emergency planners in the Augusta area are urging residents to rely more on smartphones and other personal mobile devices to track severe weather.

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Former board chairman of the Silver Bluff Fire Department Napoleon Roberson looks at damage caused by a tornado to the Silver Bluff fire station in April 2009.  FILE/STAFF
FILE/STAFF
Former board chairman of the Silver Bluff Fire Department Napoleon Roberson looks at damage caused by a tornado to the Silver Bluff fire station in April 2009.

High-tech warning systems that send alerts to landline customers and select cellphone users are seen as the future of weather alarms for a region that saw two tornadoes in March.

Officials say the technology – available in Richmond, Columbia, Aiken, Burke, McDuffie and McCormick counties and coming soon to Lincoln County – would dramatically improve response time by using satellite signals to send e-mails, text messages and voice mails when potentially deadly storms loom.

The challenge is getting everyone enrolled in call databases.

“We must embrace new technology,” said Mie Lucas, the disaster preparedness coordinator for Richmond County, which has only 2,000 cellphone users registered in its alert system. “It’s the best way to get out information and make people aware of severe weather.”

Older systems, such as warning sirens, are increasingly unreliable, authorities in area counties say. They are difficult to hear inside buildings, and many people have become desensitized to their false alarms over the years.

There are no sirens in Rich­mond County, but there is an administrative office building in Augusta on Fourth Street that tracks severe weather around the clock, sending e-mails, text messages and voice recordings to all landline subscribers. About 2,000 residents have registered their cellphone numbers at augustaga.gov to receive suggestions on when and where they should take cover.

Similar measures are used in Columbia County, which as the first “StormReady” community in Georgia – an honor bestowed by the National Weather Service – has become an emergency management model across the state and region.

Besides two tornado sirens in Grovetown and a landline notification program, Columbia County Emergency Management Director Pam Tucker said residents and businesses have many ways to get information, including:

• An integrated warning system that pushes out presidential, National Weather Service and Amber alerts to all smartphones registered at columbiacountyga.gov

• A privately owned radio station managed in part by the National Oceanic and Atmos­pheric Administration at schools and public facilities for all civil emergencies, including chemical spills and dam failure

• A massive database with thousands of addresses and Face­book sites for individuals, hospitals, businesses and schools, some of which are outside of Columbia County

Tucker said the county is working to put up eight electronic billboards for traffic alerts, tornado warnings and other emergencies.

Casey Broom, the emergency services director in Lincoln County, has not had quite the same success as Tucker.

However, he has made up ground in matching the efforts of his rural counterparts in Burke, McDuffie, Aiken and McCormick counties, which have enrolled thousands in CodeRED, a national high-speed communications network that automatically sends weather advisories, missing-child alerts and evacuation notices to subscribers’ phones.

Broom said Lincoln Coun­ty has received a $30,000 grant from the Georgia Emer­gen­cy Management Agency and is negotiating a three-year, $14,250 contract with a third-party provider to have a mass notification system in place for residents and businesses.

Broom hopes to have the network up and running in the next few weeks and plans to use the remaining $15,750 in state grant money to integrate the network into a computer-aided dispatch system at the Lincoln County 911 Center.

“Right now, all emergency services – police, fire and rescue – are all housed in one location and depend on one siren in Lincolnton, radios from the National Weather Service and local media to get out warning and alerts,” Broom said. “This new system will give us a broader reach, enabling us to use (mapping technology) to draw a circle around a specific coverage area and send alerts and advisories to all our subscribers.”

Though the digital phone networks cover a large area, promoting them to the wide boundaries of rural counties has presented challenges.

In Richmond County, Lucas said emergency management has inserted fliers in water bills and had its community response team, citizen core group and fire chief talk to training classes, civic groups and neighborhood watch meetings to promote the software.

In Aiken County, Emer­gen­cy Management Coordinator David Ruth has held seminars, church meetings and luncheons on CodeRED.

Ruth said his message is simple when persuading people to sign up for the program at aikencountysc.gov.

“Five minutes could save your life,” he said.

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panpolski
9
Points
panpolski 04/01/13 - 07:26 am
1
0
Emergency Warning Systems

I believe that there are quite a few of we older individuals who don't
have or want smart phones. Most of us don't have our TV's on all of the time and sirens would probably be our last hope for a warning of
impending danger.

ReleehwEoj
124
Points
ReleehwEoj 04/01/13 - 07:28 am
0
0
Columbia County's link

is not working either from here nor from CC's webstie.

Sean Moores
906
Points
Sean Moores 04/01/13 - 07:35 am
1
0
@ ReleehwEoj

I tested the link and it worked for me. Try it again; their website may have gotten overwhelmed.

ReleehwEoj
124
Points
ReleehwEoj 04/01/13 - 08:04 am
0
0
Sean, still no joy

and I can reach other "https" sites

Red Headed Step Child
4269
Points
Red Headed Step Child 04/01/13 - 09:01 am
0
0
Weather radios

I invested (about $35) in a NOAA weather radio - my fear has always been those storms that hit in the middle of the night when everyone's sleeping. It does a great job of signaling pending storms. It has a battery back up for when the power goes out. This may be a good option for those that don't have smartphones, etc. Kroger used to carry them...

Sean Moores
906
Points
Sean Moores 04/01/13 - 10:28 am
1
0
@ ReleehwEoj

I can't figure it out. It is working for me and others in the Newsroom. Try accessing it from the CC website. http://www.columbiacountyga.gov/Index.aspx?page=2387

MarinerMan
2107
Points
MarinerMan 04/01/13 - 11:48 am
1
0
Another Option
Unpublished

Since the days of Jeff Rucker, NBC26 has offered WeatherCall. You don't have to have a smartphone. You register, and it will call up to three phones, and send an email. It has been supported - read underwritten, by a couple of different people. Currently, I think it is being paid for by Busbee's. But remember, it is based @ your home location. It follows the polygons from the Weather Service in Columbia.

TakeAHike
191
Points
TakeAHike 04/01/13 - 03:21 pm
0
0
Broadcast SMS?

Why no mention of Broadcast SMS? This was initiated by an act signed back when Bush was in office and doesn't depend on people signing up. Newer phones will receive the alerts from the cell towers near the device and has the added advantage that out of town guests will be covered. It was supposed to be rolled out by late last year. The text messages are delivered free of charge.

curly123053
5122
Points
curly123053 04/01/13 - 05:07 pm
0
0
CodeRed works!

I got signed up in Aiken County with CodeRed and it wakes you up in the middle of the night when severe weather is coming. It's almost as good as having a weather radio at night. I been signed up over a year now and I have been impressed with it. CodeRed gives alerts specific to your area because when you sign up you put in your address and you only get notification when your geographical area is affected.
Being a certified severe weather spotter I get on my computer when I am alerted to see exactly what is coming and which way it's coming. I learned to pay attention to WeatherUnderground which has excellent up to the minute reports for your area. You can find them at www.weatherunderground.com. Then type in your zip code and you have a mini weather station at your fingertips. I learned to follow that site when working EMS and sitting in the Emergency Prepapredness office as they tracked storms. There is all kinds of ways people can track and know what is coming.

AutumnLeaves
9486
Points
AutumnLeaves 04/01/13 - 08:48 pm
0
0
EMERGENCY Sirens are not...

Emergency Sirens (not just Tornado) would have been helpful for instance when there was that gas explosion on Walton Way Extension near Wheeler Road and First Baptist Church. I was driving straight toward the area with no clue what was going on and an emergency siren would have given me a heads up to pull over and call someone to find out what the emergency was and what to do. What about people who are simply traveling through our area when an emergency occurs, how do they get alerted? They don't, do they, under this system? I do not always have access to a cell phone, never-mind a SMART phone, and we are required to have our cell phones OFF while working or driving, so what good does a phone APP do? Keep in mind this is Richmond County. A good number of residents here can not afford a smart phone, nor a TV for that matter, some are lucky if they have a radio, and a roof over it, never mind a NOAA weather alert. I guess if you're not well-heeled, you're expendable right? There are other emergencies besides tornadoes and other bad weather. We need as many ways to notify people as possible. We need a good siren system that can run manually if electricity and backup generators fail. I don't trust any emergency warning procedure that relies solely on the phone and computer systems or those cell phone towers or anything that relies so much on electrical power. A good portion of our community are in dead spots where there is no phone or internet coverage for portions and sometimes all of their working and/or resting hours. Why would we rule out having Emergency Sirens that have been credited for saving so many lives in other parts of the country even in recent years whether or not other "more advanced" systems are in place in those areas? BTW, do you know how I found out about the gas explosion? I had forgotten to turn off the cell phone, a relative called, I pulled my car over, she told me she had just heard about it from another family member. Not very efficient, but it saved me from getting caught up in that mess and I had NO OTHER NOTIFICATION.

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