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					This article is reprinted from the March/April 2006 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine. www.hearingloss.org

Emergency Warnings Save Lives By Ken Putkovich How are you notified about an emergency situation that could put you and your family at risk? You don’t have to live in isolation and at risk because you have a hearing loss.

Do you have to rely on family and friends or local officials to wake you if you need to evacuate your neighborhood in the middle of the night due to flooding or a wildfire?

How do you know if a severe thunderstorm or tornado is about to strike your area?

If you have a hearing loss, you may not hear sirens or radio warnings in the event of an emergency If you are watching TV, the emergency warning may be hidden behind the captioning. If you are alone in your car or outdoors you may have no way of being alerted to emergencies that could harm you. You can change that! There is a system that can wake you if a tornado is in your area; alert you that you may be driving into a flash flood; or, let you know that you are hiking or biking into a severe thunderstorm.

It can alert you to be on the lookout for an abducted child or let you know about an accident at a local nuclear power plant. It allows local authorities to tell you to stay in your home for a local chemical fire or to evacuate for flooding.

NOAA Weather Radio All Hazard Like many other Americans you probably aren’t aware of this system. As a hard of hearing or deaf person, you may think that “radio” is of little or no use to you and you’ve probably ignored it. However that is no longer true – NOAA Weather Radio All Hazard (NWR) could save your and your family’s lives! NOAA Weather Radio All Hazard is a mission-critical service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS). It is part of a national, state-of-the-art telecommunications and information technology system designed to collect and disseminate information “…for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” NWR is owned by the federal government and operated by a staff of dedicated NWS professionals trained to deal with emergencies. It is the “Voice of the National Weather Service.” In 1975 it was designated by the President as the only federal system allowed to broadcast into the homes of the American public. In 2003, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized it as an All-Hazard system. In June 2004, NOAA and the Department of Homeland Security signed an agreement to improve delivery of warnings of national threats to public safety through broadcasts on NWR.

NWR is an integral part of every office in a national network of NWS offices strategically located to provide locally based weather services. At the same time, it collects local, regional and national non-weather (civil) emergency warnings and delivers them directly to those at risk, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week. Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) are located in secure facilities and are directly connected to other emergency warning providers and systems. Today, the NWR network includes over 930 stations broadcasting unique programming from 121 offices, covering over 97 percent of the United States population. In May 2003, nationwide, NWS issued an average of 750 severe weather warnings per day during one two-week period. On May 30, 2004 it issued 1797 warning messages. All Public AlertTM receivers are programmable and have NWR Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) capabilities. If you have a hearing loss, NWR SAME is the critical factor in waking you and alerting you to emergencies in your area.

How it Works -- What it Can Do for You Weather Radio is broadcast from special radio stations designed to cover a limited local area, generally within about 40 miles of the station. Like broadcast television, NWR reception within large buildings, in valleys, or at the “fringe” of the designated coverage area may be poor and require an external antenna. Programs broadcast on NWR are prepared at the local NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO). A WFO is responsible for specific counties in their locale and for broadcasting forecasts for the specific area covered by each NWR station. Each WFO also issues emergency weather warnings for the same area. Every WFO is available to federal, state

and local emergency managers for broadcasting non-weather, All-Hazard emergency warning messages. The SAME feature allows “listeners,” even those that can’t hear, to program their NWR receivers to activate the alarm only for specific events in a specific area. If you live in an area that is prone to tornados and flash flooding, you can program your NWR for a Tornado Warning and Flash Flood Warning in your county or city and one or two adjacent areas. If you live near a nuclear power plant, you could program your NWR for Nuclear Power Plant Warning, Shelter In Place, and Immediate Evacuation emergency messages issued for your specific area. The area specified can be as small as one-ninth of your county. Many NWR SAME receivers have outputs that turn on bed or pillow shakers, strobe lights, or activate a central alarm system. When NWS broadcasts one of the programmed events for your area, the alarm goes off and awakens you. A small text display shows you the event type and how long the emergency will last. A light indicates the immediacy. A “Warning” means an event is in progress, that you are at risk if the event is in your area, and immediate action is necessary. A “Watch” means there is a strong possibility that the event will occur and you need to be ready in case it becomes a Warning situation.

Where Can I Get a NOAA Weather Radio?

They’re as near as your local Radio Shack, Target, or the Internet. Silent Call, Harris Communications, Potomac Technologies, CompuTTY, and other retailers that specialize in products for people with hearing loss offer several different NWR receivers packaged with alerting devices. NOAA Weather Radio can be connected to whole home alerting systems and home security systems.

How Do I Use NWR? NWR is like broadcast TV: if you are in a fringe area, have a mountain between you and the station, or are inside a large metal and concrete building, reception may be poor and require an external antenna. You may even be one of the three percent of Americans that don’t have NWR coverage. You must try NWR at your location. Only buy when you can return the receiver if it doesn’t meet your needs or work where you need it. There are certain key features that the receiver you buy must have. It must be tunable to any of the seven NWR frequencies, it must have Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME), it must have a back-up battery, and it must visually display what the emergency event is and how immediate the threat is. Public Alert TM devices do this. Other useful features depend on where and how you intend to use your NWR. If you are going to use it in your home, it should be able to awake you, either directly with an attached bed shaker or strobe light, through a central home alerting or security system, or through a separate device that can remotely turn personal alarm systems on.

If you don’t want to be awakened for a missing child alert (AMBER ALERT), a winter storm expected in the morning, or a warning for flooding in a valley far below you, your NWR should allow you to eliminate alarms for those events. If you are going to use your NWR while driving a car or boat, you want an NWR that automatically tunes itself to the strongest NWR station and receives all emergency warnings, but hopefully doesn’t have to be able to awaken you. Programming an NWR receiver is about as difficult as programming a VCR, so if you can’t program your VCR, you’ll need help programming NWR. You can find out if you are covered by NWR and find the information you need to program your receiver on the Internet at www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr. The site also has much more information about NWS and NWR. Included are articles titled “NWR for Deaf and Hard of Hearing” and “Programming An NWR Receiver.” Both are highly recommended reading before you buy a Weather Radio. If you find that you have NWR coverage and have found the frequency for the NWR station(s) serving your area and the numeric code for your county, you can program the receiver by carefully following the instruction manual. Once you have programmed the NWR and tested it to make sure it works as it is supposed to, you need to make sure you can get the most benefit from it.

Plan for Disaster Ask yourself, “Am I ready?”

When disaster strikes, you are responsible for your safety and the safety of those around you, be they family, employees, students, guests, or customers. You must have an Action Plan and be prepared to follow it. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers “Are You Ready? A Guide to Citizen Preparedness,” for public use in preparing for a disaster. It is highly recommended and available by writing to FEMA, Washington, DC 20472 or online at www.fema.gov/areyouready. If you have a hearing loss, NWR can make you safer and more in touch with emergencies. It can wake you up, let you know that you are at risk and need to take action, and allow you time to get more detailed information from local television or the Internet from a safer location. If you don’t have Internet access you will have to contact the local NWS office at the location listed in the telephone “Blue Pages” for your area to get information about local NWR service. It will be under the United States Government/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service listing.

Now and the Future NOAA NWS has tested and proposed new digital technology to broadcast text as well and voice on NWR, and simultaneously deliver it by satellite to any of the many other warning delivery systems that don’t have direct access today. NOAA NWS has improved NWR over the past ten years and continues working to provide the public, including people with hearing loss, with a National Emergency

Warning System that provides All-Hazard emergency information to everyone, everywhere, all-the-time. You don’t have to live in isolation and rely solely on others for emergency information because you are a person with hearing loss. Everyone, everywhere in the United States needs to have and use NOAA Weather Radio! It can save your life!

Ken Putkovich retired from the federal government in 2004 after 41 years of service, 15 of which were with the National Weather Service. He is an engineering graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and the George Washington University. He currently works for the Reston Consulting Group as a consultant to the National Weather Service.

Specific products or vendors in this article are mentioned to help the reader find products useful to people with hearing loss. This does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement of any product or vendor by the author, his employer, or SHHH.

More Information

Standard Set for Weather Radios (CINDY: Possibly use cover of Public Alert TM brochure at www.ce.org/publicalert as a background for this sidebar.) In 2003, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and NOAA collaborated in developing a national standard for Weather Radios. The CEA 2009 Standard for Public AlertTM devices was issued in January 2004. It was used to establish the Public AlertTM Certification Program, which assures you that any electronic device carrying the Public AlertTM trademark meets the standard. More information is available at www.ce.org/publicalert.

Safety During Emergencies for Workers with Disabilities The Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) has compiled a comprehensive guide and related Web site to ensure that the federal government workplace emergency plans address the needs of individuals with disabilities. The guide addresses employer and employee perspectives, viewpoints of first responders, successful practices and legal considerations. ODEP launched the web page especially dedicated to workplace emergency preparedness issues and related resources: www.dol.gov/odep U.S. Labor Department releases are accessible at: www.dol.gov


				
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