Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When EF5 speaks...people don't listen

Here in mid-Atlantic coastal Maryland, we don't deal with too many tornadoes (although one could be too many, I understand.)  It's not at the top of our weather problem list.  Thunderstorms with lightning, hailstorms, blizzards and floods are ahead of it.

In the midwest, tornadoes are not to be messed with, which is why every prudent resident owns and operates a weather emergency radio.  These devices are tuned to the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) radio system, which is capable of emitting tones that cause the radios to wail and yelp as a warning when severe weather is about to strike.

Ah, you say. Wise homeowner goes to bed, radio is set, and then when the alert comes, tones  are broadcast to alert him, his wife, their kids and Uncle Glenn, who is bunking in the spare room until he can settle things down with Aunt Edna, to run for cover.  Head to the basement, or at least get under a sturdy door frame in the center of the house, or go to your designated safe place!  And then, the storm can come along and do what it will, but the wise homeowner and his kith and kin are safe, and that's all that matters, right?

Oh, if only.  Because, what they are finding out is that people don't respond to terminology.  Even people who have lived in Tornado Alley forever don't get the connection between "EF5 tornado" and "Run for your life!"  They hear the alert, shrug, and roll over. So the weather people have a new plan, and they will test it in Kansas and Missouri, where people like to be shown things anyway.

The new system will not use codes such as "EF5" to warn the populace.  Instead, they will use plain English to tell people to run for it. "Mass devastation," "unsurvivable" and "catastrophic" will be at the top of the list.

They don't say what they will use for the less-troubling storms.  "Troublesome" might do for the medium kind of storm, and getting down to the least of all, they might broadcast that the storm bearing down on your neighborhood is going to be "annoying."

I'm all for anything that helps people deal with emergencies.  Perhaps they could come on every so often and remind folks to stock up on flashlight batteries, meals-ready-to eat,  and drinkable water - before the storms of summer bear down on us.

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