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Editorial: City, county clarify three weather alerts

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Columbus and Bartholomew County officials have brought some needed clarity to the methods by which they will advise residents of bad weather situations in the future.

Mayor Kristen Brown and the Bartholomew County commissioners have adopted the three-tiered system used by the state in categorizing weather conditions and actions that might be taken in each situation.

Those three alerts break down into:

  • Advisory — Routine travel or activities may be restricted.
  • Watch — Conditions are threatening and only essential travel is recommended.
  • Warning — Travel is restricted to emergency personnel only. The public is directed to refrain from all travel.

The importance of these types of warnings can’t be overstated. Certainly the watch and warning statuses can have an economic impact determining whether employees decide to report to work.

Prior to the adoption of the state system, city and county officials had elevated the status from advisory to watch during the Dec. 26 storm that dropped six to eight inches of snow on the county.

This combined effort at providing information to the public is an important step, one that requires the public to be aware of the terminology and the exact meaning of each status alert.

It is an issue that needs the involvement of both the public and private sectors. Employers, for instance, should strive to inform their workers about the exact meaning of these emergency categories and make them aware of expectations.

A number of steps have been taken in recent years to increase awareness about weather emergencies. The newly adopted Emergency Notification System — which can provide a variety of public safety alerts through messages sent instantaneously to the land line phones, cellphones and email addresses of local residents — was put into use during the recent snowstorm. Although there were some flaws reported, the system shows promise of providing much more comprehensive warnings to residents.

The importance of the need for heightened awareness in these extreme situations is underlined by emergency responders who frequently post public requests that residents not call police or the 911 number for weather conditions. Such calls can cause backlogs and result in the loss of valuable time in responding to real emergencies.

In these situations, it is far preferable that residents know the proper terminology before an emergency strikes.

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