Note: This section contains an in depth review of the various warning systems that are available to the City of Live Oak in the event of an emergency. Please take a few minutes and read this section carefully.
In the event of a serious emergency or an actual disaster it is essential that every jurisdiction have a warning system(s) in place that is capable of alerting all of their citizens and the business community, in a timely manner, of the incident, and provide necessary instructions to insure their safety.
The problem is there is NO one system that is perfect as you will see as we outline all of the available systems. In order to resolve some of the problems the federal government has updated the nations warning system and created the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
The City of Live Oak is very fortunate in that we are part of a large metropolitan area - the City of San Antonio. We have all of the major TV networks, many radio stations, and a major newspaper along with several small neighborhood papers. The best source in getting information to the general population is through these major media outlets and most of them have the capability of monitoring emergency radio traffic that deals with serious incidents such as accidents, major fires, hazardous materials accidents, and law enforcement issues like hostage situations. In addition, the media does an excellent job in keeping the public informed when severe weather threatens.
In addition to the media, the following warning systems are available:
- The Emergency Alert System (EAS) for radio and television.
- The Emergency Notification System (ENS) (Reverse 9-1-1).
- The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).
- The National Weather Service - NOAA Weather Radio.
In addition, the City has a separate telephone alerting system known as Connect CTY through a private company called Blackboard Connect Inc.
The following is a general outline of these alerting systems:
The Emergency Alert System (EAS):
The Emergency Alert System covers all radio and television stations, including all cable systems in the San Antonio area. It replaced the old Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) many years ago. This system was recently updated and is now part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. The primary purpose of EAS is to insure that in the event of a national emergency, such as 9-11, the President of the United States can talk to the nation. In addition to carrying national emergency messages, state and local governments can issue emergency alerts for various reasons such as hazardous materials spills and Amber Alerts for missing children. The National Weather Service, having sole responsibility for issuing weather watches and warnings, also has a direct link to EAS for this purpose.
In accordance with an FCC directive, all licensed stations, both radio and television, must have a device to receive these messages that will then activate EAS automatically or manually. Most stations that have personnel on duty at all times will have their receiver in the manual mode. TV and radio stations with media personnel available may simply interrupt programming and go "live" with their news team to cover the emergency.
The Emergency Alert System is tested weekly at different times. A test alert is sent and ALL stations must broadcast the test within a set period of time.
As noted earlier, EAS is now one component of the nation's new Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
EAS is a very effective method of notifying the general public except in the middle of the night. Most folks are asleep!
The Emergency Notification System (ENS):
The telephone Emergency Notification System is sometimes referred to as "reverse 9-1-1" as it uses the data base of the local Bexar Metro 9-1-1 District, and is a very effective method of notifying the general public. The system has the capability of calling every single land line in a given area in a very short period of time. It is especially useful at night when most people are asleep.
The only problem with this system is that many homes no longer have a land line and ENS cannot call cellular numbers. Once again this alerting system is not perfect!
The Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS):
The Commercial Mobile Alert System is the second component of the new Integrated Public Alert and Warning System designed for cellular telephones.
The CMAS has the capability of sending a Wireless Emergency Alert or WEA Message to your cellular phone if you are located in the danger area. It is a broadcast message from the cellular towers only in the immediate area of the emergency. Generally speaking only messages dealing with life safey can be sent by this program. Some examples could be a hazardous chemical spill, a tornado warning, or possibly a police related incident like a terrorist incident or an active shooter situation. In addition, Amber Alerts for missing children will also be received.
A WEA Message can only be received by the newer cellular telephones on the market today. Eventually all phones will have the technology as people get updated phones from their carriers and their old phones are discarded.
A WEA Message is sent with a special alert tone and there is no cost involved with this service.
The National Weather Service - NOAA Weather Radio:
The National Weather Service has the sole responsibility of advising the public of the potential for severe weather. They have numerous specialized offices across the nation such as the National Hurricane Center in Florida and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma, along with many regional and local forecast offices across the nation.
The Storm Prediction Center is responsible for monitoring the weather across the nation and issuing predictions for severe weather events throughout the year. The regional and local forecast offices are responsible for local forecasting's and issuing weather bulletins as needed.
In Texas we fall under the Southern Region Headquarters located in Ft. Worth. The Regional Operations Center (ROC) oversees the forecast offices within the states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. Our local forecast office is the Austin/San Antonio office located at the New Braunfels Airport. These forecast offices operate 24/7/365 and they possess "Dual Pole" Doppler Radar - the best available today. Dual Pole simple means the radar beams can scan both distance and height at the same time giving a more accurate picture of storm systems.
Each forecast office operates a NOAA Weather Radio station on a set frequency. In the San Antonio area that frequency is 162.550. NOAA weather radio is a continuous broadcast of local weather conditions, the forecast, and related information. The radio may be turned on whenever you want to listen to the forecast or get current conditions. When the radio is turned off the alert mode is set and the radio will turn on when an alert tone is sent by the NWS office to broadcast a weather bulletin such as a weather watch or a warning. As a reminder:
- A Watch simply means conditions are favorable for a certain type of weather to occur.
- A Warning means that type of weather is occurring now or is imminent.
It is important to remember the difference! If a Tornado Watch is posted by the local forecast office it simply means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form during possible storms. If a Tornado Warning is issued it's time to act! A warning is issued when a possible tornado has been detected by also called "hook echo" on radar, by opposing wind direction on radar, or by a spotter. In rare cases the NWS may issue a "Tornado Emergency" when they have absolute confirmation that a tornado is on the ground. In some cases they maybe watching it on television or they may be in direct communication with an emergency response agency, i.e. police, fire, or emergency management.
It is recommended that all of our citizens have a NOAA weather radio in their home and even at their place of business. Most school districts have radios in every school within the district and many businesses have them as well. They are available at low cost from most electronic stores.
In addition to issuing weather bulletins, NOAA Weather Radios can also rebroadcast emergency messages sent out by EAS to include Amber Alerts. These radios are also tested on a weekly basis with a test tone.
In closing, a NOAA Weather Radio is one of the best investments you can make to protect your family from severe weather. Remember - the City cannot issue weather bulletins as these are the sole responsibility of the folks at the National Weather Service.
Connect CTY Telephone Alert System:
In light of the issues noted with EAS and ENS, the City of Live Oak decided several years ago that we needed to improve our warning capabilities with our citizens, especially those using only cellular phones as their home phone. In December 2008 the City entered into an agreement with a private company known as Blackboard Connect Inc. for their telephone system known as Connect CTY. This telephone calling system is very similar to ENS however it can call home telephones, cellular numbers, and send text messages and e-mail messages to multiple numbers at the same time. It allows citizens the capability to add whichever numbers they desire through a direct portal on the City Web Site under City Services or from the Emergency Management Section.
In a real emergency, the Connect CTY system will probably be the first one used since it is the quickest and fastest method to notify citizens who may be in danger.
This telephone system was added primarily for emergency notifications however citizens were advised at that time that the City may also send out other messages dealing with important issues that are not true emergencies such as water outages and street closures. These notifications cannot be sent with EAS or ENS as they are not real emergencies. In addition, informational messages are sometimes sent out relating to City events like Park Day or elections.
The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS):
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the nations' warning system proved to be rather ineffective. Following several major hurricanes and other disasters over the next few years, the federal government took a hard look at the nations' warning system. In 2006 the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) was created by Executive Order # 13407, dated June 26, 2006. It created a totally new concept by linking all of the available systems together across the nation that would allow the President direct access in the event of a national emergency such as the events of 9-11.
In creating this new system it also added the latest technology including cellular phones, text messages, and the internet including the social media sites. It also provided a means for state and local governments to get on board and have direct access to their local warning systems. As such, the City of Live Oak has entered into an agreement with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and we now have the capability to do this. Through software from the company that handles the Connect CTY system, we now have access to the Emergency Alert System, the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), and even NOAA Weather Radio.
A few select personnel have access to the system and can create an emergency message that is sent electronically to the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN). This is a gateway that certifies our credentials for the message and then sends it to whatever alert system(s) we have selected.
In closing, this section outlines the City's capabilities for warning our citizens and the business community in the event of a serious emergency. As noted the Connect CTY Telephone System will probably be the first one used followed by EAS and probably CMAS. As such, it is important the all citizens have their numbers, both home and cellular numbers in the data base.
In addition, every home should have a NOAA Weather Radio as the National Weather Service is responsible for severe weather bulletins.