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Emergency alert: Someone please explain this to me

Last night I’m watching TV when Chris Wright breaks in to tell me there is a big red blob heading for Indianapolis. (True, he’s no Dallas Raines, but we make due with what he have here in Indiana.) He’s got the Doppler radar. He’s got the tornado warning graphic in the corner. He’s got little yellow boxes outlining the storm systems. He can zoom in and forecast the path of the storm. He can tell you when it will hit every little city, right down to the minute.

Then suddenly this downspout of weather information is interrupted by:

Emergency alert

A big black screen with big white text and an awful bleating sound similar to those vuvuzelas at the World Cup. After a pause, a robotic male voice starts to speak with the broadcast clarity of someone talking on a cell phone in a tunnel. I’ve gone from getting the best weather information 2010 can provide to getting the best weather information 1970 can provide. My question: WHY DO THEY DO THIS?

I understand that the emergency alert system is supposed to warn people of imminent danger and get them to run for the cellar or hide in the bathroom when necessary. I’m going to assume it was created in an effort to help people. But when it breaks in on my super Doppler broadcast, I don’t see how it’s helping me. If I needed to take cover, Chris Wright would let me know. Weather people LIVE for these kind of storms. They love bragging about their coverage and their fancy radar in promotional ads for the station. In this situation, it seems like the Emergency Alert System is doing more harm than good.

So, someone please explain this to me. What am I overlooking that proves the EAS on TV helps people out? There’s got to be a reason, right?

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16 Comments

Anonymous Fat Girl • June 15, 2010 at 10:41 am

Oh my girl you crack me up. I grew up in northern Indiana and I almost *miss* these retarded alerts. I never got them either. I think it’s a Hoosier thing. LOL

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Tina • June 15, 2010 at 11:03 am

Because it is an attention grabber. If you are in the other room, you don’t pay attention necessarily to the rolling banner on the bottom of the screen or notice when the news turns to weather. BUT…if you are in the other room and all of a sudden you hear BLET BLEAT *ROBOT TALK* BLEAT BLEAT….you pay attention.

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Katie • June 15, 2010 at 12:02 pm

I work in the broadcasting industry…In the majority of the US, tv stations are in markets that are too small to support a 24/7 weather/news department. A lot of them can’t afford new departments at all. Some have even started outsourcing their news…kinda like the AP…there’s an organization that produces news segments, and sells them to smaller stations for them to air.
It would be nice if a station could choose whether or not to air the EAS announcements…but it’s a national thing, and most cities and towns depend on it.

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Denise • June 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm

They’re used for more than just weather systems. Here in California, they let you know when you’ve been ordered to evacuate in case of fire or mudslides, and the local TV stations don’t necessarily know about those specifics.

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Jen B • June 15, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Well, I just read the post title completely wrong. I thought you were having an emergency and need someone to help you. lol. Glad to see everything is okay.

The tornado warnings in Texas don’t have the emergency alert. We have sirens. If there is a tornado warning, the sirens go off. And then they play the soundtrack from Twister. If you hear that, then it’s officially time to freak out.

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Stacie @ Imperfectly Healthy • June 15, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Ugh! My first night home in Texas visiting my parents was the same night as the Lost finale, and I almost lost it when the weathermen kept cutting in! They finally realized it wasn’t going to fly with Lost fans and started doing it during commercials (mostly anyway).

But I guess that has nothing to do with explaining the weird emergency alert. We also have sirens, but I do remember those weird alerts from when I was younger. I don’t really get how they help either — I agree that it’s probably this effect: “This alert is strange, and because it’s strange, I should be afraid enough to seek shelter.” :)

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Quix • June 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm

I can’t say I fondly missed them from Chicago as a child, but being back in Texas, it’s definitely familiar to hear the weather alerts again.

I gotta say though – if I’m inside watching TV, I’m probably alright – you don’t need to interrupt my show unless there is something that I need to take action for – sometimes they get a little itchy and pre-empt stuff for heavy rain. I mean, come on, it’s just rain. I’m inside. Gonna stay inside. I’m watching TV and not doing something else cooler because, well, the stupid rain is keeping me from it. You don’t have to rub it in!

What I REALLY hate is the ones at 3am that make noise even if your TV is off for an amber alert. Maybe I’m a horrible person, but waking me up at 3am to tell me a child is missing is only going to make me angry, not help me help you find it.

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Quix • June 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm

@Quix – find THEM. Or he/she. Not it. That makes me truly sound like a horrible person!

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Quanny • June 15, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Maybe if they keep showing the interesting graphics people are more inclined to continue watching? Whereas, if it’s just boring old text, people think ‘well, there’s nothing good on TV, I might as well go be safe somewhere’ ?! Living in lil old England I’ve never seen one of these things – we get excited when the weather is a little bit changeable.

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Amy • June 15, 2010 at 8:20 pm

We had thunder in Ireland a couple days ago! Apparently, pretty unusual here. I won’t say I miss the tornadoes of Indiana, but I have always felt other states were worse off. Plus how bizarre was it to sit in the hall in elementary school facing the wall with your hands over your neck? I never felt safe in the hall!

A friend of mine lived in OK for awhile and asked for a tornado shelter for her anniversary–a proper one dug into the ground outdoors. Her neighbor asked for diamond earrings. Shortly thereafter, the neighbor was joining them in their special cellar during an F4, wearing her earrings…

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The Merry • June 15, 2010 at 8:29 pm

Um… do you even have a basement in your current abode? Should I worry about you?
I’ll probably worry anyway, even if I shouldn’t.
Do let us know if you’re trapped under several layers of debris and a couple of seriously annoyed felines.

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PastaQueen • June 16, 2010 at 9:55 am

@Katie – Ok, that makes sense. I’ve always lived in a big cities, so I didn’t even think about people who live in rural areas.

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Rah • June 17, 2010 at 12:26 am

I was in a hotel room once, just off an interstate highway, and I had no idea what county I was in, or the names of all the little towns in the path of the storm. So I would definitely have appreciated the bald-faced, “get yer butt to safety” announcement if I was in immediate danger.

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Amanda • June 17, 2010 at 3:34 am

Someone mentioned the noise gets your attention. Not the kind of attention they’re aiming for. I get the test at least once a week. If i’m watching TV when it happens, I turn the channel and don’t switch back til it’s gone. For all I know, it could be alerting me to an alien invasion but it’s so loud and god damn annoying I have no patience for it. If I happen to be in another room and hear the beginning BLEET BLEET sequence, I completely shut my mind off to it.

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Cynthia • June 17, 2010 at 7:04 pm

We don’t see the warnings often here, but the BLEET, BLEET, BLEET sequence definitely at least alerts me that something is happening and perhaps I should pay attention instead of staying oblivious. After living in ND for a year and a half, I do now firmly know that weather can kill you.

I’ll run it by hubby… he works for the NWS. And you are right, they do love the storms, even though it makes a shift WAY more work and more hectic. Plus he often has to work unexpected overtime if the weather goes wild. If I’ve heard an alert, I don’t worry if he’s late getting home, ‘cuz I expect it.

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MargieK • June 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

I think the point is that they cut into everything with no regard for what show they’re interrupting. If you’re watching a state-of-the-art weather forecast, then yes, it’s kind of moronic to interrupt it with such backward, low-tech graphics and noise.

And as a LOST devotee I would have been LIVID if I’d missed any of it due to severe weather warnings (I think our Denver stations had the wisdom to cut in during commercials, going so far as to say “Don’t worry, you’re not missing any LOST”).

But if you’re watching something else (a comedy, drama, movie, reality show and NOT the news&weather), or not really paying attention to the TV? They serve their purpose. Which is to let you know not to go out, to shut your windows (OK leave one or two cracked if that is what you’re supposed to do in the event of a tornado), get to your basement or tornado shelter (again, if that’s appropriate), or perhaps to find your flashlight so you aren’t fumbling around. In other words, be ready for whatever Mother Nature may have in store.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JennetteFulda.com now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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