Emergency Alert System, REALLY?

Posted: Monday, May 28, 2012 at 10:08 am
By: Doug Lund
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I used to dread answering the newsroom phones at Keloland during serious storms because 90 percent of the time those calling were upset about our weather guys cutting into their favorite programs to bring weather alerts. There would be nothing I could say that would calm them down, especially if they were not in the direct path of the storm. They couldn’t care less if the folks up in Roberts County needed to take shelter, “Get The Amazing Race back on the air, dammit.” I would usually listen to them moan and groan; then try to explain our weather department’s reasoning for the program interrupts. “You don’t want viewers to be uninformed about potentially deadly weather do you?” More often than not, though, that didn’t help and the callers would likely resort to colorful expletives to express their displeasure. My rule was if I heard any of the George Carlin words you can’t say on TV, I’d tell the caller I don’t have to listen to that and hang up. 

I mention all this because, during Sunday evening’s severe thunderstorms in Southeastern Keloland, it was ME who was looking to pick-up a phone and scream at somebody. Not the meteorologists at Keloland or any of the other local stations but at Midco cable TV and that *%$#@ computer voice that overrides every channel on my cable system to bring me an Emergency Alert. Okay, I get it, but there are several problems…one of them potentially dangerous. First, during severe storms, time is “critical” and it takes forever for the automated EAS information to come on the air and then go through the warning areas. It’s audio only so there’s no radar screen to see the area mentioned and severity of the storm. If I try to switch to a local station for breaking weather information gathered by their experienced meteorologists using the latest state of the art Doppler’s, Vipers and computer models , the cable’s EAS won’t let me change the station keeping its customers locked-on to that channel until the primitively acquired already dated information runs its exasperatingly slow course..then, after a  few computer beeps and buzzes, finally sets us free.

To make matters even worse was that during the height of the storm Sunday night, the EAS signal would break into programming but it was all garble..a pixilated mess where you not only couldn’t hear that horrid computer voice, you couldn’t see the warning information slowly crawling across the screen. So during that 3 or 4 minutes, we had no idea where the storm was or it’s intensity and, of course, I couldn’t change the cable channel over to Brian Karstens and that new guy to find out what was really going on. I wonder if stormy weather was to blame for the garbled EAS signal. That would be a dangerous irony.

Okay, normally, I don’t get too worked up about thunderstorms and haven’t sought shelter in our basement in years but my dear Linda who had traveled with her sisters to Omaha for a graduation party, was driving home from Sioux Center, Iowa during the thick of it. She needed to concentrate on the road, so I didn’t want to keep calling her cell. The only way I was able to keep her up to speed on the storm’s latest trajectory was with my computer set to Keloland.com. I had a drink ready for her when she finally rolled safely into our driveway..shaken but not stirred.  

I tried to call the guy in charge at Midco to express my displeasure and public safety concerns with EAS cutaways that kill all other channel options and, in this case, offered only garbled unintelligible warning information…but, you know, it was a holiday weekend. Probably at the lake.

If memory serves, the month of June is notorious for tornados in this part of the world and I don’t want to be watching Trobec showing me exactly where the twister is only to have him cut-off and locked out by EAS. Houses could blow away with people still inside by the time that robot voice comes on with its slow antiquated pap. If, weather permitting, it comes on at all.

I’m keeping the Direct TV and Dish phone numbers handy just in case, oh wait..aren’t they both prone to malfunctioning during bad weather too?

How about rabbit ears?  I wonder if I can still buy rabbit ears.

16 Comments

  1. Jeni says:

    What is really tricky is translating the “until 16:00″ to “4:00 p.m” or “21:30″ to “9:30 p.m,” and etc.

    And jeepers, we have to know the names of the counties around the one we reside in to know where the storm is located.

    To the EAS credit it will at times read “10 miles west of (name of community.) If never heard of the community, most likely the storm is not located in the immediate area.

    The EAS is a wonderful system to try to warn people of storms and conditions that have the potential of damaging property and endangering lives, but it would be nice if they would be able to make some slight adjustments.

  2. DRH says:

    EAS killed the audio on Dish too. We could see the local weatherman and his radar map but couldn’t hear a word he was saying. Just that darned computer voice!

  3. Barbara T. says:

    We are in Brookings and have Direct TV. Occasionally we lose the picture when a storm is right overhead, maybe a few minutes, but otherwise we get the KELO weather guys fine and no loud voice override or channel locking. Maybe you should have a weather radio Doug. Barb T.

  4. grouse says:

    I can almost see you clutching your chest Cuz, because I agree with you. EAS needs to lead, follow or get the hell out of the way! Somebody needs to tell somebody that really knows the head somebody that their stuff is now bush league. If they keep circumventing businesses that have invested millions in state of the art storm detection systems, they will eventually kill someone by getting in the way of people who actually know what they’re doing.

  5. JohnM says:

    I found a good way…Use the NOAA website, http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?CityName=Sioux+Falls&state=SD&site=FSD&textField1=43.5442&textField2=-96.7301 . Click on the radar (the one with colors). Once that loads, click on the Composite Loop (click the word Loop). This loads the radar loop. Click AutoUpdate to On. Get the window to fit so you can see the time index as it counts. Learn the Warnings Legend colors in the rectangles. Then I get a visual of what is happening with a delay of only 5-10 minutes in 40 minute chunks. It updates quickly enough to get a grasp of the weather coming and from where. Then, get a battery backup for your computer, monitor, and networking equipment so if power goes out, the Internet stays up. Laptops should have a good battery in them. With this in place, I get a good confidence level in conjunction with other items such as TV and Radio. Looking out the window also works for very local checks. And lastly, know where to go in a hurry if Hell cometh.

  6. JDS says:

    Thank God I’m a rock weather person. You know… if the rock outside your window is wet, it’s raining, if it’s gone, there must be some good wind out there…

  7. Eric says:

    Don’t switch to Satellite, whatever you do! We had Direct TV for two painful years (i was caught in a contract) and every time it would sprinkle we would lose TV. My wife and i spend a lot of time outside and not watching TV. However every time we wanted to watch TV because the weather was crappy, we couldnt because we would lose signal.

    Those EAS alerts are awful. There is nothing worse than getting state of the art technology taken off the air, and to taking a step back into the 1950′s to get a weather alert. At least if Trobec is on a can still do a screen-in-screen and watch another show if i want to.

    By the way, how hard does the wind have to blow in order for Jay to switch his term from “breezy” to “windy”? In my opinion, Jay, if the wind is blowing 30+ that is WINDY, not BREEZY. Haha.

    Also, does anyone remember when Patrick Griesegrabber (SP) was on the air at KSFY? Talk about a horrible TV name!

  8. Doug: I’m sorry I was not available for your call. I did not see/hear the messages but have heard from others who did. I can’t confirm the garbled message issue, but there were indeed a bunch of messages. Too many for my liking, but that’s not our call. The weather warnings come from the National Weather Service over the EAS (Emergency Action Notification System). This is a government supported system that we are REQUIRED to carry. We simply pass through the electronic message we receive as we receive it. The messages are triggered automatically by the weather service and it overrides all programming. The voice is the automated weather service voice, the same one on weather radios. I knew there werre too many messages a couple of years ago when my grandaughter started mimicking the voice. We caught it before we needed to send her to a speech pathologist. I wish there was a way to narrow the scope of the messages to reduce the number that do not pertain to a majority of viewers. I’m not sure if there are plans to change or update this system, but there is a plan to develop an additional system for national emergencies. The FCC conducted one test and is planning more in the future. If oyu have suggestions on how we can make the system better for our viewers while operating within the requirements of the FCC I’m all ears. Thanks for the comments Doug, and for those of your blogger friends.

    Best regards!

    W. Tom Simmons
    Senior VP of Public Policy
    Midcontinent Communications

  9. Eric says:

    Tom is there any way they could have the scrolling message go across the bottom or top of the screen while you are watching a respective show, for example an up to the minute live doppler message i am getting from Jay or Brian? Thats the most annoying part for me. I get taken away from something i can physically see is going to carry my house away rather than just hear about it coming. Maybe someone could find a way to have them throw a current radar shot up on the screen? I don’t mind getting interrupted for something that saves lives, i just wish it was something that was going to be as even close to as effective as the news coverage that gets interrupted.

  10. David says:

    I use this thing called a computer when I want instant information.

  11. RDL says:

    TYPE IN ON YOU PC ” WUNDERGROUND.COM ” AND TYPE IN YOUR CITY AND YOU WILL GET AN “X ” WHERE YOUR ARE IN RELATION TO A STORM. ITS IN COLOR AND YOU CAN GET A LOT OF OTHER INFORMATION ALL WERATHER RELATED. YOU CAN CLICK ON ALL KINDS OF UP TO THE SECOND INFORMATION.

  12. V Vet says:

    About a moth ago the National Weather Service had a program here in Rapid and I got into quit a discussion about the number of warnings that go out. She did not want to hear about it. I think it was in Joplin last year that some of the deaths were blamed on people ignoring the latter warning because there had been so many.

  13. Sarah says:

    I couldn’t AGREE more with your write up!!!! Thank you SO much for publishing what all of us are thinking!

  14. Chuck says:

    Rabbit ears and tinfoil will fix your problems….

    Because I don’t live in the Southeast corner of the state I rely on the internet when severe weather is coming, my biggest complaint is when they do the EMS tests at 2am….nothing worse than falling asleep with the tv on, being woken up by that beeping. Then I have to lay there watching infomercials waiting for my heart rate to get back to normal. Who would have ever thought they could come up with a way to talk for 30 minutes about a weed eater?

  15. Albert says:

    This is obnoxious. Not even three quarters of basketball and 6 interruptions! They need to join the 21st century and use scrolling tickers. If I had ordered a ppv fight I’d be xtra p!ssed and want some of my money back.

  16. Joe Ward says:

    The EAS interruptions are extremely infuriating when it happens during a Pay-per-view event. I order quite a few UFC Fights and Boxing matches on Midco’s PPV channels. On May 5th 2012 I ordered the Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Miguel Cotto fight on PPV and the EAS System took over my cable box 5 different times for a severe thunderstorm warning in Minnesota. It costs 60 dollars to view a PPV fight and i miss the equivalent of about 5 rounds of boxing looking at a black EAS warning screen. I was not happy. During regular programming I don’t really get too upset. I understand the safety reasons but a scroll on the bottom of the screen really needs to be looked into for Pay-per-view events.

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