Texting alerts only part of weather warning need

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, May 20, 2012

Much-needed weather alerts will soon be available to Brookhaven and Lincoln County residents, and while it’s a huge step forward, the new system won’t quite reach everyone.

     The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in the process of implementing a weather alert texting system for cell phone users, city officials learned Tuesday night. Messages are expected to be specific to local areas, so phone users will only get the texts for their location.

     The alert system will not cost cities or counties anything, and cell phone users will get the weather messages unless they choose not to participate. All major cell phone service providers will be part of the program.

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     The weather messaging system, expected to be active around June 1, comes at a time when local leaders were contemplating getting their own system to aid local residents. Some might think those considerations are now unnecessary.

     However, what remains vital, and should still be a top priority for local leaders, is a way to provide weather alerts to citizens who may still have only a land line telephone or who may have their cell phones turned off. A text messaging system does little good for a resident who has put their cell phone on silent for the night or left it in a different part of the house. Some very sound sleepers, or those with failing hearing, can fail to wake up even with the cell phone ringer on.

     With that being the case, local leaders should not abandon their plans to acquire weather sirens.

     City leaders have allocated funding to purchase a weather siren. However, they are awaiting word on whether a grant will be awarded that would allow those funds to be used to purchase more sirens.

     Weather alert coverage for the county remains an unknown. Two supervisors have been named to a panel studying the weather warning issue.

     While the federal weather alert texting system is a highly welcome addition, it is not the sole solution to weather warning woes. Local leaders need to redouble efforts to ensure that everyone is aware when dangerous weather is in the forecast.

     Those who’ve lived through tornadoes like those in Joplin, Mo., and Tuscaloosa, Ala., take severe weather seriously. So should we all.