Tornado and other weather-related warnings can now be sent directly from the National Weather Service to area residents’ cellphones and computers.
Residents who have signed up for the countywide Everbridge emergency notification system may now become part of the Smart Weather Alerting system.
Subscribers to the free service can either opt in or opt out for more than 100 different types of location-specific severe weather alerts, Bartholomew County Emergency 911 Operations Director Ed Reuter said.
Smart Weather alerting provides maps and detailed notices, such as specific start and stop times, on threatening weather conditions such as thunderstorms, hail, ice, snow, extreme temperatures, high winds and floods, Reuter said.
While conventional warnings require a designated local emergency employee to activate alerts, Smart Weather notifies threatened residents within two seconds after the National Weather Service issues their notification, Reuter said.
That’s especially important when an unexpected weather system targets the Columbus area, the 911 director said.
On May 9, Reuter checked statewide radar on his home computer at 10:55 p.m. and saw a severe storm cell in the Terre Haute area. Minutes later, as Reuter was preparing to go to sleep, a newly formed funnel cloud suddenly formed at the Bartholomew-Brown County line that posed an immediate threat to Wayne and Sandcreek townships.
While Reuter was able to activate the tornado siren by 11:18 p.m., he emphasized the Smart Weather Alerting system would have provided southern Bartholomew County residents invaluable additional time to prepare.
“This system is best for those situations when every second counts,” Reuter said. The new alert system would have only alerted Wayne and Sandcreek townships residents that night, instead of the entire county, he added.
Prior to the new system, the county designated an employee to be on call to activate severe weather warnings or emergency warnings, Bartholomew County Emergency Preparedness Director Dennis Moats said.
The difference is that the Smart Weather Alerting system is automatic. When the warning is issued, it goes out to the Everbridge subscribers at the same time, Moats said.
But subscribers can also take advantage of a feature called “Quiet Time” from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“That means it won’t wake people up in the middle of the night unless a warning has been issued,” Reuter said.
Although Everbridge is offered free to all Bartholomew County residents, the cost is paid through city and county taxes.
Smart Weather Alerting adds an additional $3,437 to the current annual cost of the Everbridge system, Reuter said.
On June 3, the city of Columbus agreed to pay slightly more than $2,000 of those costs, while the county council voted June 10 to pick up the additional $1,409.
The new service brings the total expense of providing the Everbridge system to just more than $24,000 annually, Reuter said.
While Reuter expressed strong confidence in both Smart Weather Alerting and Everbridge, he emphasized no emergency alert system is going to be perfect at all times.
“The technology is great, but when it comes down to it, God is the only one who can tell us what is going to be,” Reuter said.
It’s also remains the responsibility of individuals, families and businesses to have an emergency plan in place well before threatening weather arrives, Reuter said.