September 4, 2008 By Corey McKenna
Photo: Public alert radio kits alert schools in time of an emergency. (Credit: NOAA)
Students across the nation should feel a little safer as they return this week thanks to a partnership of several federal agencies that is bringing public alert radios to the nation's schools. Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other agencies began distributing 182,000 public alert radios to preschools, Head Start programs, K-12 nonpublic schools and nonpublic school central offices, K-12 school district offices and post-secondary schools. In two earlier phases, the federal government distributed radios to all 97,000 K-12 public schools across the country. The radios will be in every school in the nation by September, NOAA said in news release.
The potential benefit of the public alert radios was demonstrated a few years ago by events at Charles F. Johnson Elementary School in Endicott, N.Y. The school received a weather warning from their radio, allowing the principal to alert teachers and make sure that all students were safely in the school's interior hallways. Within minutes of the warning, 70 mph winds ripped the roof off the school. Fortunately, no one was hurt. Those inside did not even see the damage happen.
Forecasters at the NOAA's National Weather Service forecasting office in Binghamton detected a severe thunderstorm on Doppler weather radar with winds estimated up to 70 mph. They issued a severe thunderstorm warning, which activated the school's NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards alarm. The school had 22 minutes from the time of the warning to when the storm ripped the roof off of the kindergarten wing for faculty and staff to implement the school's safety plan and evacuate to designated "storm-safe" areas.
"Over 20 minutes of advanced warning allowed us to execute our severe weather safety plan, which in turn saved lives and prevented injuries," William Tomic, principal of Charles F. Johnson Elementary School, said at the time. "Our school practices the severe weather safety plan at least twice per year, and this time the practice paid off."
How it Works
Public Alert Radios include a special receiver capable of picking up the very high frequency on which the alerts are broadcast. The radios pick up signals from a network of more than 985 transmitters throughout all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories.
The NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards network (NWR) provides alerts and safety steps on a wide range of emergencies -- from an approaching tornado, a telephone outage disrupting 911 emergency services, local roads overrun by flash floods, chemical releases or oil spills, or the urgent need to be on the lookout for an abducted child.
NWR also plugs into the Federal Communications Commissions Emergency Alert System. Working with the Emergency Alert System, NWR is an "all hazards" radio network, bringing together comprehensive weather and emergency information in one place. In conjunction with federal, state, and local emergency managers and other public officials, NWR also broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of hazards -- including natural (such as earthquakes or avalanches), environmental (such as chemical releases or oil spills), and public safety (such as AMBER alerts or 911 telephone outages).
Known as the "Voice of NOAA's National Weather Service," NWR is provided as a public service by NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce. NWR includes more than 985 transmitters , covering all 50 states, adjacent coastal waters, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Pacific Territories. NWR requires a special radio receiver or scanner capable of picking up the signal. Broadcasts are found in the VHF public service band.
Once the units are activated, a signal is broadcast that automatically turns on the radio, alerting administrators to a variety of