How come you can get an alert on your phone when you’ve taken your 5,000th step of the day, but sometimes people don’t even receive warnings when a disaster is about to strike?
Numerous times in recent years, government emergency alert systems have completely failed the people who pay for those systems with tax dollars.
This isn’t about alerts that tell people there’s a sale at JCPenney’s. It’s about severe weather and other emergency alerts designed to give people time to escape or take other action.
Let’s look at the latest disaster alert failure first. When we’re done, I’ll remind you that counting on the government or alert systems is risky.
Sirens Silent in Hawaii
The recent wildfires in Hawaii were fueled by extremely dry conditions and winds whipped up by Hurricane Dora in the Pacific Ocean.
As of this writing, more than 100 people have died and hundreds are missing. That makes it the deadliest wildfire in the United States since the Camp Fire in California in 2018. And the deadliest disaster in Hawaii since a tsunami killed more than 150 in 1946.
The fires are projected to be the second costliest disaster in Hawaii history, behind only Hurricane Iniki in 1992.
The incredibly fast-moving flames – recorded at more than 60 miles per hour – made it very difficult for people to escape. What made it even more challenging was the lack of sirens from the emergency alert system.
Phone Alerts Were Ineffective
Inexplicably, Hawaii emergency management records show no evidence that warning sirens sounded before people were running for their lives.
One Lahaina resident who lost her home in the blaze told this to the Associated Press. “There was no warning. There was absolutely none. Nobody came around. We didn’t see a fire truck or anybody.”
Other survivors made similar statements. They claimed they did not hear any sirens or receive other warnings.
Some alerts were sent to phones, plus television and radio stations, according to Hawaii officials. But it’s speculated that power outages and cellphone tower damage limited their reach.
Tornado Enters Without Warning
Several months earlier, residents of Sussex and Kent counties in Delaware were not warned about an EF3 tornado.
The storm producing winds of more than 135 miles per hour killed one, injured others, and damaged more than 60 homes and businesses.
The area has no emergency sirens. Folks there are dependent upon cellphone and media alerts including TV and radio.
An alert did go out, but the National Weather Service later admitted that people in portions of those two counties did not receive them.
Residents Unaware of Chemical Leak
Weather-related emergencies are not the only ones that can benefit from an early warning system.
Just last year, a chlorine gas leak from one of the area’s chemical plants was reported in South Charleston, West Virginia. A shelter-in-place order was issued, but two of the emergency alert system components – a siren and wireless messages – failed.
It turns out, the local outdoor siren had been out of commission for two months. The fire chief said it had not been repaired due to supply chain problems.
One resident said she usually hears those sirens in connection with weather problems. But the fact that she didn’t hear one for the chemical leak was “really kind of scary.”
Human Error Causes False Alerts
Of course, there have also been plenty of times when a false emergency alert went out due to human error.
Those false alerts cause people to panic. And some get injured during quick escape attempts from the area.
One that gained international attention occurred in January 2018. An alert was delivered to the phones of Hawaii residents, warning that a ballistic missile was headed their way.
That pretty much takes the cake when it comes to frightening warnings. It was later learned that an Emergency Alert System (EAS) worker pushed the wrong button. EAS is regulated by the Federal Communications Commission.
Zombie Apocalypse Alert
Other examples of false emergency alerts include a hazardous materials warning out of New York in 2016. It became obvious the system had been hacked when the alert concluded with, “Would you. Could you. On a train?”
Three years earlier, a false evacuation alert was sent to residents of Suffolk County in New York. Tropical Storm Hermine was offshore at the time, making the evacuation alert believable.
Back in 2005, residents of Connecticut received an evacuation order involving no details about the “why.” It was declared false shortly after it was issued.
And finally, this bizarre false alert occurred 10 years ago in Michigan. Several television stations declared that a zombie apocalypse was happening. The hacked message included, “bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living.”
Tune in to Your Self-Reliance
The lack of emergency alerts during real crises and the issuing of false alerts can both be very dangerous.
We can’t control these occurrences, but we can take steps to obtain a reliable source of timely and sometimes even life-saving information. Following the deadly Delaware tornado, a spokesperson with the National Weather Service recommended owning a NOAA weather radio.
This type of source will tell you what’s on its way (and what isn’t) and can even include your best option for escaping it, including evacuation routes.
You never know what you might get alerted to next. By becoming self-reliant, you’ll be prepared to protect yourself and your family.