Wireless Emergency Alerts were brought operational in the summer of 2012. Initially, they were activated by county-wide warnings which created problematic issues not unlike NOAA weather radio overwarming of decades past.
Because of character limitations, the weather message for tornado or flash flood warnings were meant to be “bell ringers”, similar to a weather radio: There is danger nearby, seek additional information. Every WEA weather alert ends with “CHECK MEDIA”
The movement to polygon methodology improved the county-based over-warning to some extent but did not solve the issue of warnings migrating outside the intended geographic area defined by the polygon coordinates. Unless a cell tower’s broadcast footprint is fully contained within an NWS polygon, smartphone users will be either warned unnecessarily or not warned at all when they should be, due to policy differences amongst the carriers regarding what the criteria is for activating a cell tower. This has created enormous inconsistencies which manifests in the all too common experience of two people with different carriers sitting next to each other; one getting an alert, the other not.
Impact Based Warnings containing deliberately strong language, instructing the recipient to act immediately without hesitation or delay, are now being broadcast via the existing WEA network. These extreme warnings will also bleed well outside the intended polygon, but with significantly stronger messages of imminent danger. They have the potential to further erode the public’s trust when the event does not unfold. Combining such impactful, highly definitive language with a delivery mechanism which is highly imprecise has the potential to cause the public to become complacent and tone-deaf to words like “emergency” and “catastrophic”. If these words are no longer attention-grabbing, where do we go from here? Warning fatigue is on the rise. Will we run out of strong, impactful words? Every WEA weather alert ends with “CHECK MEDIA”. As broadcasters, are you prepared to respond to this additional public confusion?