Posted in Emergency Alert System

Emergency Alert System Test–This is Only a Test…

Some viewers heard Lady Gaga singing during the latest EAS Test.

When it comes to emergency management and disaster preparation, communication is king. Wait, I thought I was the king? At least I’m king of my own doghouse. On November 9th, FEMA conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). In 1997, the EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System which had been in use since 1963. The current system uses the familiar signal-sound to alert viewers and listeners to impending emergency announcements and to enable localized hazardous weather alerts. Now take that sound and amplify it times 1.5 billion. That’s a dog whistle for pooches. But the EAS was developed in order to allow the President of the United States the ability to address the nation within minutes.

With about 15,000 radio and broadcast stations participating in the November 2011 national test, most reported a smooth testing procedure, but it was not without its hiccups. Improving the test is an ongoing goal of both the government and broadcast partners which requires the public and private sector working together for a worthwhile common goal of improved emergency communications. I have my doubts about this one, I’ve been watching C-SPAN and I don’t see too much cooperation.

Here are some of the glitches that occurred during the test:

  • One North Dakota county reported that only 33 percent of the area stations broadcasted the test.
  • Some DirectTV subscribers heard a different kind of piercing sound than everyone else—footage of Lady Gaga singing instead of the test alert. Now that’s just awesome.
  • Some Time Warner Cable subscribers saw home-shopping wares in place of the emergency alert. I prefer watching: “When Animals Attack!”
  • Individuals using antennas for reception reported that they saw regular programming, or that the EAS image stayed on the screen long after the audible test was completed.

Despite these glitches, the federal agencies involved assured the public that they were conducting a working test, and that data would be gathered and evaluated in order to improve the system. They even sent out a release prior to the test to make it clear that they were not anticipating a 100-percent success rate. I have a 100 percent success at being awesome. It’s just a natural talent. A shiny coat wins every time. One of their reasons for anticipated glitches was because there are so many stations throughout the country, each one with specialized equipment necessary to successfully accept and transmit the test signal and associated emergency announcement.

A frequent criticism of the EAS is that it ignores new communication methods which most people rely on such as the Internet and mobile devices. Until recently, I thought these mobile phone things were actually attached to people, like a third hand. The EAS was not sent via either of these channels. However, there is a new initiative called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) which aims to integrate several alert methods and agencies in order to greatly enhance coverage.

Here are a few interesting facts about the new system:

  • Intended as an umbrella system that integrates EAS, the National Warning System (phone-based alerts), NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards and the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).
  • Created in response to criticisms about the government alerts for Hurricane Katrina and other similar disasters.
  • Works with the major cell providers to allow the government to send text alerts regarding emergencies. If only I could get a hold of that system…” Mandatory 5-mile walks for all canines. Steady diets of ground chuck and gravy vital to health and national security…” Scheduled to be online in the spring of 2012, the messages from CMAS will have a unique signal and vibration so they will stand out from standard text messages.

Business owners should take a cue from the national warning system, planning in advance of emergencies and developing coordinated methods for communicating urgent messages to their teams. Companies should use multiple technologies including text message, email and available building intercom systems to ensure that occupants and staff members are aware of building-specific emergencies. I use barking as my warning system. It’s simple and effective. What’s more, internal systems should be tested once they are implemented.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Health & Welfare, Uncategorized

Terrible Twisters

Prepare so tornadoes don't take you unaware.

Few events put the power of nature on display like tornadoes. With the recent destructive tornadoes in the Midwest and South, it’s timely for all property owners to review tornado safety.

Unlike hurricanes, tornadoes appear quickly and do not follow any forecast-ed paths. Panic and confusion among tenants can set in unless prior planning and procedures have been established. Tornadoes are unlike other emergencies such as fires because tenants need to stay in the building during the emergency, and actually use the building for protection. My friend Scruffy says that his steel-reinforced doghouse is a good tornado shelter. I told him unless he plans to reenact The Wizard of Oz; he should probably go somewhere else…

Preparations Before a Storm Occurs

“Warning” or “Watch:” The first alert regarding tornadoes is a “tornado watch,” which simply means the conditions are right for tornadoes to form. A “tornado warning” means that a twister has either touched down or been spotted on meteorological radar. I’m waiting for a “bacon storm” to show up on radar one day, although that might just be an urban legend.

Warning System

  • Consider installing a warning system that works in conjunction with fire alarms. Make sure that tenants can easily identify the two types of warnings, so they can plan properly. Remember that outside sirens are not intended to be heard indoors. We pooches can hear them, but we don’t know how to tell you people to take cover!
  • Establish tracking and warning procedures so tenants have enough time to properly prepare for storms.

Physical Improvements

  • Shatter resistant glass, made of Plexiglass or acrylic substances, can greatly reduce the risk of flying debris including broken glass. This is especially important when tornadoes strike unexpectedly and tenants do not have time to move to the interior of the building.
  • Designate a building area as a tornado shelter. Make sure the area is large enough to accommodate all tenants including any pets. FEMA has guidelines on how to select the area in a building that is best suited for a shelter. If possible, investigate ways to reinforce the area through structural improvements, making sure to minimize the amount of materials/projectiles that are in the area.

During the Storm

Personal Safety and Evacuation:

  • Tenants should move away from windows and proceed to the interior of the building, moving to the lowest floors possible.
  • Instruct tenants to use stairs, as power to the elevators will very likely be out.
  • Tenants should be advised to cover their heads at all times in order to prevent injury from falling objects. I can’t really do this while trotting. Maybe someone could get me a hardhat?
  • Establishing safety procedures for employees who are physically disabled will save valuable time.

Lightning:

  • Tornadoes form around severe thunderstorms, which lead to lightning! If time permits, tenants should unplug sensitive computer and television equipment to prevent the risk of fire.

After the Storm

  • Listen to a NOAA weather radio or check websites to be sure there are no longer tornadoes or severe thunderstorms in the area. Remember you may be safer in a slightly damaged building than risking exposure to lightning!
  • Tenants should evacuate the building according to the designated evacuation plan.
  • Once outside, everyone should pay special attention to downed power lines and other dangerous debris.

For tornadoes and other emergencies, I always say that preparation is the first step toward ensuring tenant safety. Even though I try to lighten up my blog with jokes, I’m always serious about the need for planning for emergencies. Remember that proper respect for the power of nature can save lives.

For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact the smart people over at RJ Westmore, Inc. Their e-based system offers the best emergency training available, with automated and integrated features. RJ Westmore, Inc. is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, a non-profit trade organization that promotes sustainability in how buildings are designed, built and operated. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.