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As the weather gets more worrisome, the FCC adds new emergency alert codes

Emergency RadioAs scientists anticipate more hurricanes in a warming world, the Federal Communications Commission has authorized three new Emergency Alert System event codes. They are: “Extreme Wind Warning” (EWW), “Storm Surge Watch” (SWW), and “Storm Surge Warning” (SSW).

The EAS allows state and local emergency networks to issue warnings about tornados and hurricanes directly over the radio airwaves. It’s a “proven life-saver,” FCC Chair Tom Wheeler noted on his blog earlier this month. “But it could be better”:

“At a press conference in Miami this Wednesday, the heads of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Hurricane Center came together to send a message to America: beware of storm surges. ‘What kills people is water,’  said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. ‘And the most preventable of those deaths is caused by storm surge.’ High winds from hurricanes can also be devastating, yet there is currently no specific alert for either high winds or storm surges. We need to fix that.”

The National Weather Service requested the new codes. Here’s an excerpt from their 2013 filing with the FCC:

“Storm surge losses in the hundreds or thousands of lives have occurred in every coastal state from Texas to South Carolina, and in some states north of there. Most of the 8,000- 12,000 deaths from the Galveston, Texas, hurricane of 1900 resulted from a storm surge. In recent years, Hurricane Katrina (2005), Hurricane Ike (2008), Hurricane Isaac (20 12), and Hurricane Sandy (20 12) further demonstrate the impacts to property and lives from storm surge and the need for a new NWS watch/warning.”

Each EAS message broadcast from the Emergency Alert System to radio broadcasters has four parts. First a digital header code, then that lovely two-tone attention signal that makes you grit your teeth, then the automatic audio message, triggered by a specific event code, and then an End of Message code. The header code contains the event code, which classifies the emergency.

Here are some current event codes:

Severe Thunderstorm Watch
Severe Thunderstorm Warning
Severe Weather Statement
Special Marine Warning
Special Weather Statement
Tornado Watch
Tornado Warning
Tropical Storm Watch

Manufacturers of EAS devices will now have to update their systems to integrate the new codes.

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