Weather radios to broadcast emergency warnings

Tuesday, December 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Residents of four Oklahoma counties can now receive reports of biological or chemical terrorism, toxic spills and wildfires over special weather radios.

Operation Warn broadcast services are available to residents of Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland and Pottawatomie counties, officials said Monday. It may soon be expanded to Logan, Grady, Lincoln, McClain, Payne and Kingfisher counties and could possibly go statewide.

``Nothing of this magnitude has ever been done in a metropolitan area our size,'' said John Clark, director of the Oklahoma City Office of Emergency Management.

An estimated 27,000 Oklahoma City-area households have National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios. Residents receive storm bulletins and tornado warnings on them from the National Weather Service's forecast office in Norman.

But the weather radios can receive a much wider variety of civil-emergency and crisis-based messages.

``We are working with local emergency management leaders to use weather radios to alert the public to any significant threats that aren't self-evident and not immediately covered by local media outlets,'' said Mike Foster, meteorologist-in-charge of Norman's National Weather Service office.

The 24-hours-a-day system is particularly helpful in reaching people in their homes at night, officials said.

Clark said announcements over weather radio include an emergency broadcast notification followed by a short message about the threat and actions to be taken. Listeners may be advised to seek shelter or to evacuate an area depending upon the situation.

To activate the weather radio system, a local emergency manager will notify the National Weather Service. Information can come from local police or fire officials who have received a 911 emergency call.

A forecaster in Norman _ using special codes to verify the information _ composes the emergency message and broadcasts it.

The emergency process should take three to four minutes, Clark said.

The radios contain digital technology that allows them to activate when emergency information is broadcast for specific counties.

Weather radios come in many sizes, with a variety of functions and costs. Most weather radio receivers are electricity-powered desktop models with battery backup, or battery-operated portable models. Prices range from $40 to $80.