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November 7, 2003

All-hazards radio warns of danger

From: Democrat and Chronicle, NY - Nov 7, 2003

By Corydon Ireland Staff Writer

(November 7, 2003) — Rochester-area citizens can now add one more tool to their winter emergency kits: an all-hazards weather radio, which emits a tone to alert owners to civil or weather emergencies.

The $43 device — which can run on batteries, an outlet or a car converter — provides an audible signal and a text message in the event of an emergency. A strobe attachment, for $15 more, imparts the same alert to the deaf or hearing-impaired. The text message would be a brief warning of either impending weather conditions or a present civil emergency.

Becky McCorry, director of emergency services for the Greater Rochester Chapter of the American Red Cross, called the all-hazards radio “a critical addition” to a disaster supply kit.

The Midland MR-100 radios are the focus of Project Prepare!, an initiative to be announced today by Monroe County’s Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Since 1986, the committee has been looking for ways to alert the public to severe storms, hazardous spills, major fires and other emergencies.

“Back then, we were struggling,” said committee member Sande Macaluso, operations and planning officer with the county Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Two ideas emerged this year. The first is a reverse-911 system, which allows officials to call 10,000 households an hour in an area affected by a chemical spill or some other emergency. The second is the all-hazards radios, which receive standard federal weather alerts — and now can be programmed to receive local emergency alerts.

The county goal: radios in 100,000 area households within three years.

“This is one of the best things you can have” in a disaster kit, said Mary Louise “Muffy” Meisenzahl, administrator of the emergency preparedness office. “It’s like having batteries in your flashlight.”

Before now, the county relied on the National Weather Radio Services to transmit regional emergency messages from the National Weather Service in Buffalo. The information was then relayed to local media.

But federal authorities recently allowed the county to operate the NWRS system directly, to speed emergency communications. “You won’t have to wait for the top of the news hour,” Meisenzahl said.

The all-hazards radios are fitted with Small Area Message Encoding technology. It allows the radios to be programmed with county codes, tailoring alerts to specific areas. Codes are available for Monroe, Orleans, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario and Wayne counties.

Buyers can program the radios themselves or have it done at clinics Saturday at the Chase-Pitkin Home & Garden Centers in Webster and Henrietta.

Chase-Pitkin has about 400 of the Midland radios in stock, said Tom Cain, a buyer.

The company, a partner in Project Prepare!, is selling the radios at $17 below the suggested retail price. A version with an AM-FM radio built in will be available soon, Cain said.

The radios, handy for federal weather alerts, will be used by the county only in the event of a major fire, chemical spill or other civil emergency. “We’re not going to be broadcasting something every day on this system,” Meisenzahl said.

Cindy Ames, who chaired the county subcommittee that came up with the all-hazards radio idea, said preparedness requires other steps, too.

Create a household emergency plan, she said. Know how to get more information, such as from local media outlets. And put together a disaster supplies kit that includes such items as flashlights, water, food and medical supplies. (See beprepared/supplies.html.)

“We’re trying to reinforce this behavior,” said Ames. “Blackouts and ice storms are not foreign to us.”

The all-hazards radios have to be set up within 40 or 50 miles of one of the 810 transmitters operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The transmitters’ signals can reach 95 percent of Americans. Near Rochester, there are transmitters in Ogden and Victor, Ontario County.

Radio clinics
Disaster-planning clinics will show how to program all-hazards weather radios from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at two Chase-Pitkin stores: 900 Holt Road in Webster and 650 Hylan Drive in Henrietta. Other clinics will be held, though no dates have been set.

Copyright 2003 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.