NOAA radios to alert area of high emergency

By Eric Anderson

Within 30 minutes of an emergency, the University’s supply of National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration radios will have notified the campus.

This still might not be fast enough, said Kip Mecum, director of Emergency Services, considering that the killings at Virginia Tech started and ended in ten minutes.

“The best system in the world will not get a notification out in less than fifteen to twenty minutes,” Mecum said. “We are looking to expand the distribution of NOAA weather radios for the purpose not only of the weather warnings, but following Virginia Tech, we are looking for ways to communicate with students, faculty and staff.”

A National Oceanic Atmosphere Administration radio is a small, personal AM/FM radio that is channeled specifically to the National Weather Service but can also be used to communicate emergencies.

The radio is one of the four primary tools of the Emergency Notification System that can broadcast mass emergency messages across campus. The other three are Emergency Notification text-messaging, broadcast messages to mass public media outlets and scrolling messages placed on significant frequently-hit campus Web sites.

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    “(The radios) are weather alert radios that have the capability of doing emergency alert notification,” said Bill Keller, director of Champaign County Emergency Management. Keller is responsible for asking the weather service to activate the radios.

    Although the radios are programmed to more quickly and accurately receive emergency weather warning messages, they are also a tool to spread emergency information.

    The University receives emergency messages from Lincoln, Ill., a regional weather services headquarters that broadcasts notifications to central Illinois.

    “We worry about weather from the west, southwest and north,” Mecum said. Due to trade winds, weather from those directions tends to dictate University weather.

    “They’re just another tool in the box of stuff to do in terms of emergency notification,” Keller said.

    After hearing of an emergency, the radios can get an emergency message out in 20 to 30 minutes.

    Despite the speedy notification, redundancy in emergency notification is necessary because any of the systems can have problems.

    “If there are 30 students and 29 have phones and the instructor says to please turn the phones off, a text message won’t do any good,” Mecum said.

    A similar problem exists with the radio. An unfortunate option is to turn them off, Keller said.

    “If they’re in the off-mode, their purpose is defeated,” he added.

    The Division of Public Safety is working with facility managers to identify how many radios are on campus. Mecum estimates that there are several hundred, but he would like to purchase two-hundred more. Ideally, he would like to have to boost the number of radios on campus to at least six-hundred, or up to one thousand.

    Kent Brown, assistant athletics director, said the Athletic Association is considering implementing the weather radios as well.

    The radios are tested every Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Should a warning be issued through them, the radio will beep loudly before announcing the message.

    “They’re not a thing-to-save-the-world weather alert radio,” said Keller.

    “We feel that they’re the same thing as smoke detectors.”