A weekend of repetitive NOAA weather alerts leads to reform

ALINA PANEK — Between Friday, February 22 through Monday, February 25, the Denison community received twelve emergency notifications related to the high winds and the potential for storm-related damage that had been forecast for Licking County.

The system is set up to send alerts to every Denison e-mail address. Anyone wishing to receive additional alerts to other devices can access the system via the Self-Service icon on MyDenison and add additional contacts. Depending on if one has provided a phone number for this system, one could receive an email, text message and a phone call about potential emergencies.

Campus Safety uses the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather center for these automated messages. Until Wednesday, Feb. 27, the system was set up to receive notifications on Warnings and Watches for a variety of weather conditions, one of which was High Winds. The NOAA weather service works with subscribers to set up the schedule for each type of warning and sends out alerts accordingly.

According to an email sent under Denison Emergency by Captain Jim O’Neill of Campus Safety on February 27, in the case of High Winds, Denison’s designated alert, which had been defined several years ago, was set to go out every six hours in the event of a High Wind Watch.

“Campus Safety received approximately 10 complaints, but many other people filed complaints through their respective departments,” O’Neill said. “My best guess is that somewhere between 20-30 complaints were filed. In general, they were complaining about the redundancy of information and the timing of calls. Some alerts were sent late in the evening and did not contain any new or vital information.”

After Campus Safety received numerous emails from faculty and staff as a result of the alerts, they conducted a review of the program and have redefined the alert settings. “Tornado and Thunderstorm Warnings will go out as they are received from the National Weather Service. Winter Storm Warnings will go out every six hours, but no alerts will go out between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. Flash Flood Warnings will go out every six hours (day or night). High Wind Warnings, Blizzard Warnings, and Fire Warnings will go out one time per day, but not between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am.”

The multiple alerts sent were in regard to watches and in response Campus Safety has removed all “watches” from the alert system to avoid this issue again.

“I believe that the system we now have in place addresses the most likely, severe weather events without overloading everyone with redundant or irrelevant information,” O’Neill wrote in the email. “…Some of the complaints I received had wording indicating that if we couldn’t change the system, then an opt out would be likely. I believe that our faculty, students and staff are reasonable, and that they will respond well to the changes we have made… I encourage everyone who has been using the alert system to continue to do so…. and anyone who has suggestions regarding the system to contact me.”