With summer just around the corner, meteorologists know that this also means it is the beginning of severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes. On June 11, the National Weather Service will debut a wireless emergency alert system for severe weather warnings. Several years ago, the NWS started working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Homeland Security to create the Commercial Mobile Alert System.
Depending on location, local phones will receive weather warnings, which include blizzards, flash floods, ice storms and tornadoes. Amber Alerts or a presidential notification of a national emergency will also be included. A special tone and vibration will be triggered on the phone when severe weather is close and the alerts can be turned off except for messages from the White House.
"Last year, 2011, we had $11 billion in weather disasters," said Fred McMullen, chief warning coordinator for the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh. "We lost nearly 500 people in fatalities last year due to natural disaster."
McMullen added that this new technology could go a long way of warning residents ahead of time, let individuals know what to do in an emergency situation, and save lives. These are all basic goals of the National Weather Service.
Chris Miller, with the National Weather Service in Lincoln, Illinois, said that not all cell phone providers are participating in this program yet, which means not all cell phones will be able to receive the messages. However, this service is free since it comes through the phone as a notification and not a text message.
While the installation of an emergency alert system is beneficial, it is only unilateral. The use of a third party answering service would give cell phone users the option to relay messages in addition to receiving them. This allows even more detailed information to flow freely about upcoming severe weather.