Delays Exist In Albany County’s Emergency Notification Systems
After a tornado warning in Albany County during Memorial Day weekend, many Albany County residents have expressed concern that they did not know why the Outdoor Warning Sirens were activated until several minutes after they sounded.
Albany County Emergency Management Coordinator Aimee Binning says that a delay between the local sirens and additional information is a challenge that the Emergency Management Agency has recognized and is working to mitigate.
Binning says there is a variety of ways to inform the public about local emergencies, but those methods do not necessarily work together. The Emergency Alert System (EAS), which is broadcast on local radio stations, is activated by the National Weather Service for weather related events such as tornados.
Binning notes that the Albany County Emergency Management Agency cannot activate the EAS System.
“The Emergency Alert System is completely independent and separately operated from the Emergency Management Sirens and the city and county CodeRED System,” says Binning. “Emergency Management and the public safety dispatch do not have the authority to send out EAS notifications.”
In order to activate the EAS alerts, the National Weather Service must first be aware of the emergency, something that can cause a delay.
In the case of the tornado spotted south of Rock River on Saturday, May 23, 2015, Public Safety Dispatch received multiple calls about a tornado. Because of the variety of calls and the uncertainty of the tornado’s location, Public Safety Dispatch elected to activate all of the outdoor warning sirens in Albany County rather than an isolated siren.
Binning says that this activation was to alert those in the area of a possible risk as soon as was possible.
“The warning system reminds people to be hyper-vigilant and to seek information. That information will typically come from a weather radio,” says Binning.
Binning says people can tune in to local radio and television stations for more information, but notes that there may be a delay in getting the additional information to media partners.
Once the sirens were activated, dispatch notified the National Weather Service of the tornado, and the National Weather Service elected to send out a broadcasted EAS alert. The time it took for the National Weather Service to be notified and then activate their alert system caused the delay of several minutes between local sirens, EAS alerts, and online notification from the National Weather Service.
Only one EAS alert was activated by the National Weather Service.
Additionally, those with local cable channels reported a Civil Alert Message that did not provide further information. Binning says that this was due to recent upgrades done by the local cable provider, and dispatch worked with that company to fix the problem. Because of this, the alert system for local television channels was tested again on Wednesday, May 27.
Binning says that the agency elected not to send a CodeRED Alert for the tornado warning because the CodeRED System can take 10 to 15 minutes before a message is sent to residents. She says in the future, though, the CodeRED System will be utilized during similar situations.
Binning says that while her agency works hard to inform the community, she still advises that people take measures to ensure they have access to information in cases of emergencies. She advises that people do not turn off the general warning messages and alerts features on cell phones. Additionally, she says that smart phone users can easily download National Weather Service applications that can inform them of any weather related events in the area.
Although CodeRED can have a delay after the local alert sirens are activated, Binning still advises that people utilize the tool for local alerts.
The Emergency Management Agency also offers SKYWARN Spotter Training Courses each year. These courses teach people how to identify severe weather which can then be reported to the National Weather Service. Trained spotters report many forms of severe weather including thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail, heavy snow, and flooding. This can assist the National Weather Service when they issue EAS alerts.
Binning says the most recent tornado warning has helped the Albany County Emergency Management Agency to identify areas that need improvement. She says that they are working to have the best protocols in place to best inform the public.