Did you get the message?

DOWNEY - Last week FEMA and the FCC collaborated and did a nation-wide emergency alert system (EAS) test. The large-scale testing was a first-time effort.Many areas of the country often use the EAS to warn residents of forecasted weather conditions or other calamities. However, the EAS has never been used to notify all 50 states at once. Many people have heard or seen the test warnings on their radios or televisions during non-prime time broadcasting hours. The recent test was done during the middle of the day so more people could be notified. The government decided to test the system in the month of November which is typically after the hurricane season and before severe winter weather strikes. The EAS uses television and radio systems as the pipeline for their information. Cable, satellite and traditional antenna based systems were all used for the broadcast. Unfortunately not everyone has the radio or television turned on during their school or work day. And radio and television systems don't have a recording system for unplanned testing and emergency programming like the voice mail systems attached to our telephones. Both land-line and cellular phone systems are almost always 'on' and ready for a call or message. However, for the national test, they were not used. Internet systems were not used either. In the future the EAS may expand to include internet and phone notifications. Plans to fill these gaps are being developed for the future. Until the time the EAS is built-out and operational, a nation-wide notification system will rely on neighbors helping and alerting others. With many of our community members spending their time on the internet rather than in front of a television, notifying everyone will not be easy. The same can be expected with radio broadcasts. Unless people know of a reason to listen to their radio, many prefer pre-recorded music. If only land-line phones are used, many people will still be 'out-of-the-loop' as over 20% of our population has now stopped using their land-line phones in favor of using their cell phones. Cellular providers have, so far, been able to avoid turning their numbers over to the government for emergency notifications. So how can we stay informed now? We need to take advantage of the accessible systems we have in place. 1. We can talk with our neighbors and create an open line of communication. Those neighbors who learn about certain issues can pass them along IF they have our contact information. Have we developed a list of e-mail addresses and phone numbers for our neighborhood ? It doesn't have to be everyone on the block. Try for 80%. 2. Sign up for the City of Downey Emergency Notification System. The process is available on-line through the city website (downeyca.org). Go to the home page, click on the city department icon, then click on the emergency preparedness line, then click on the citizen alert line. From there just follow the directions. You can submit some or all of your contact information (home phone, cell phone, business phone, e-mail add, etc). The system is address based. You are allowed to list up to six addresses as properties of interest. Include the address of your child's school or one of a relative. You can even get the alerts as text messages. You also have a choice of being notified of emergencies, only, or you can choose to get non-emergency messages such as street closures. The City system has worked very well for thousands of calls in the last two years. If you don't have a computer, go to the library and use one of theirs. 3. Develop a hard-copy list of phone numbers for your friends, family and neighbors. Cell phones break, batteries can die, cordless phones need electricity. 4. Know the emergency policies of your children's day-care or school. If there is an evacuation at the school you may be called with an automatic dialer system. Be sure your emergency contacts are correct when you submit them. Administrators at the school have emergency and re-unification plans. The plan likely calls for parents to show up at the school and not for (hundreds - thousands of ) parents to call the school with questions. Learn about this ahead of time. 5. Know how to send and receive a text message. Texting is a simple and quick way to communicate. The text message system often works when the cellular voice system doesn't. 6. Have an out-of-state contact identified. Know the land-line, cell phone and e-mail address for this person. This person can serve as the information collection point for your family members as long as everyone in your family knows the plan and has the contact information. The out-of-state person can also pass along information to you if they live in a different time zone. 7. Finally, have an AM radio and extra batteries (or a hand-crank power system). The EAS used the AM radio spectrum and it worked well. When we have a major earthquake, the AM radio system will likely work before most of the other communication systems. Any questions about this article or emergency preparedness should be directed to ready@downeyca.org.

********** Published: November 17, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 31