Specifics of Recommendations:
1. The Federal Government should enhance the use of existing technologies. Here's how:
Who can put a price tag on a human life? We have a tremendousopportunity to save lives and prevent human injury and suffering by warning people about coming disasters.
The Federal Government can play a valuable leadership role in encouraging people, businesses, and communities to buy and put NOAA Weather Radio receivers where they would be most effective. Such an effort is clearly needed. Despite ample evidence that warnings save lives, only 1 in every 10 homes (6 percent) now has receivers. The percentages are even lower for businesses and public areas like schools, public facilities, apartment buildings, manufactured housing parks, community centers, elder care facilities, day care centers, hospitals, places of worship, and public sporting and concert events.
In addition to having the Federal Government lead the rest of the Nation by example, this would protect the lives of about 230,000 Federal employees at a cost of less than $100 per facility with a minimal fiscal impact on the Federal Government.
Including NOAA Weather Radio receivers in new building construction would save lives by vastly improving the warnings to those who live, work, or gather there. NOAA, FEMA, and HUD should work with the homebuilders, manufactured housing builders, and state and local governments to encourage making these low-cost receivers a standard in new homes and buildings.
Partnerships have already succeeded in getting NOAA Weather Radios donated to schools and other public facilities, but there are still many critical public facilities that lack an early warning system, including schools, hospitals, community centers, elder care facilities, day care facilities and others. By creating partnerships with state/local governments, private sector groups, and non-profit organizations, the Federal Government can continue to encourage donations. The primary cost of this approach at the Federal level is in staff time that is needed to work with partner groups.
New technology combinations would make NOAA Weather Radios more attractive to consumers. They would also make it easier to incorporate the devices they use every day, making it seem less like an unnecessary expense. The Federal government should work with manufacturers of NOAA Weather Radios to create more "customer-friendly" designs—a joint weather radio and smoke detector; and television sets—that self-activate to broadcast weather and hazard alerts. Another design might be car radios that automatically tune to local weather warning signals when they are issued. Cars in Germany already do this.
The Vice President has already made several public service announcements about the importance of NOAA Weather Radios. Other Federal agencies should help intensify this public awareness campaign. By combining the efforts of all of these agencies, the Federal Government can more clearly focus the message on safety, affordability, and benefits. We should also more closely coordinate with the manufacturers of the receivers through the use of partnerships, to the extent possible.
In addition, NOAA Weather Radio staff should conduct social research about why people do and do not buy weather radios, and should develop a communications strategy to complement private sector efforts aimed at marketing innovative products.
Current computer projections estimate that NOAA Weather Radio signals currently cover 90 percent of the U.S. population. However, actual coverage may be between 80 and 85 percent. We should add enough transmission towers to reach at least 95 percent of the population.
The system of the future should include warnings for tornadoes, thunderstorms, tsunamis, wild fires, flash floods, hurricanes, winter storms, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, hazardous materials, space weather, chemical spills, terrorist incidents, civil unrest, and landslides.
2. The Vice President should direct the Multi-Agency Working Group to:
We should embrace new technology by encouraging and incorporating standards transmission and equipment capacity. All broadcasters and large wired cable systems must have EAS equipment. By October 1, 2002, all cable systems (both wired and wireless) must have EAS equipment. These systems must all interface: Television and radio broadcast licensees and receiver manufacturers; computer software and hardware developers; wireless and wireless telephone service providers and equipment; paging and wired and wireless cable systems.In addition, State and local emergency managers need to have Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME)/EAS equipment that inter-faces with NOAA and with broadcast stations and cable systems.
Improved warnings can both save lives and benefit the economy. More specific warnings would improve "miss" and "false alarm" rates, ex-tend the warning times and better target the message.
The National Weather Service continues to increase the lead times and improve the accuracy of warnings. As we begin to better understand the physical processes involved, we can continue to improve the accuracy of weather warnings.
Lead times for tornado warnings have improved from less than 5 minutes 10 years ago to 12 minutes or more today. Warning times for flash floods have also increased dramatically. Ten years ago, the public had about 9 minutes of lead time before a flash flood. Today, the NWS warns for flash flooding about 55 minutes before the event. Through the U.S. Weather Research Program, the NWS works in partnership with other Federal agencies (NASA, NSF, and the Navy), scientists from dozens of universities, broadcast meteorologists, and others to build on those successes and make further improvements in weather and flood forecasting.
In a letter to the FCC, dated October 20, 1999, Vice President Al Gore urged the Commission to address the issue of disaster warnings in the digital age in a public proceeding. Specifically, the Vice President suggested that the Commission, in conjunction with the NPR, "spear-head this collaborative effort to identify ways to refine our hazard warning network." This Multi-Agency Working Group can facilitate this collaborative effort and ensure that disaster warning systems keep pace with technological advances.
Specific goals the Department of Commerce has set for 2004:
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