Same Radios Warn Of Disasters

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Most people have seen a message from the U.S. Emergency Alert System, which replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1997, scroll across the bottom of a television screen alerting people about an emergency or natural disaster.

The system has been active and effective for many years at least for those who happen to be tuned into a local television or radio station.

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Local HAM radio operator and weather hobbyist Chuck Herron displays just a few of the many new portable radios equipped with Specific Area Message Encoded technology.

But what if you're watching a video or cable television channel? What if you're surfing the Internet or cleaning the basement or staring into space? Or it's 2 in the morning and you're in bed?

"You would not receive the alert, no matter how important or life-threatening the weather or natural-disaster situation might be," says Chuck Heron, an amateur radio enthusiast, weather hobbyist and volunteer promoter of Specific Area Message Encoded (SAME) Weather Radios.

These new-to-the-public weather-broadcast gadgets, also known as All Hazard Radios, are equipped with a tone alarm that sounds in the event of potentially dangerous local weather conditions or life- and property-threatening emergencies such as forest fires, flash-floods or severe winter storms.

SAME radios fill a void left unaddressed by other alert system, Heron says.

"Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors protect you from dangers inside your home, school or business, whereas, SAME receivers alert the public to dangers within your vicinity, outside the building."

And until now, such alerts have never been so capable of pinpointing specific areas. Locally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) Weather Radio service broadcast from the top of Mount Ord is dedicated to the Payson, Pine and Strawberry areas by name and all of Northern Gila County by coverage.

The broadcast has for some time been available 24 hours a day, delivering a constant stream of repeated forecasts, weather observations and emergency alerts. But there is a recent addition to the system: a new line of weather-broadcast radios equipped with a tone alarm that sounds in the event of potentially dangerous weather conditions.

But that's not all the equipment can do, according to Tyree Wilde, a warning coordination meteorologist for the Weather Forecast Office in Flagstaff.

"These radios are also very effective for preparedness warnings," Wilde said. "We may announce that conditions are favorable for tornadic development or flash flooding today. Knowing that atmosphere is prime for a certain kind of phenomena a few hours in advance kind of gets people's preparedness up."

The information broadcast by NOAA is sent out on its own seven radio frequencies and 500 transmitters across the United States seven of which are located throughout northern Arizona. The Mount Ord transmitter broadcasts on the 162.425 frequency, and its alerts are unique to the area. "We're the only ones who hear it," Heron says.

After an alarm sounds, a voice broadcast informs the listener of critical information regarding the localized alert.

"For example, if evacuation of your area is necessary, you would be informed of the best routes and where shelters are being set up. If there is toxic air in your area, you'd be advised to turn off all air-conditioning equipment, close all windows, and stay inside until being told it's safe to leave."

Special radios that receive only NOAA Weather Radio, both with and without the special alerting features and priced from $49 to $299, are available in Payson at Radio Shack. Other local retailers are expected to begin offering them in the near future, Heron says.

Once the radio is purchased, it may be used almost anywhere in the United States. While the broadcasts are now directly available to about 75 percent of the U.S. population, coverage is expected to soon reach 95 percent.

"Plans are in process to use this technology not only to broadcast weather-related emergencies, but for law enforcement alerts, road conditions, hazardous material spills and perhaps even school closings, always specific to Northern Gila County" Heron says. "The possibilities are endless."

And endlessly impressive, as evidenced by the reaction of Payson's legendary Anna Mae Deming, a 53-year veteran of the National Weather Service.

"I absolutely love it," the seasoned sky-watcher says. "If everyone in town gets one of these radios, they wouldn't keep calling me 40 times a day."

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