The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 9, 2012

City wants to buy weather radios for those without

JOPLIN, Mo. — Phil Jones had been working on a construction project outside his house all day on May 22 and was unaware that a tornado watch had been issued.

Once he was inside, though, his weather radio went off, and he learned that a warning had been issued.

His wife and son were not home, so he called them on their cellphones to convey the warning. He could not reach his son — he later learned that his son had left the city and was not in the warning zone — but he did reach his wife.

“She was at Long John Silver’s” on Range Line Road, Jones said. She hurried home to College Heights, via Duquesne, thinking she would be out of harm’s way. She made it to safety with, as it would turn out, only minutes to spare.

Her receipt from the restaurant was timed 5:31 p.m. At 5:41 p.m., a massive EF-5 tornado began to grind its way six miles through the city, destroying nearly 8,000 buildings including the Long John Silver’s where she had been. The storm eventually would be blamed for 161 deaths.

Jones’ family owns the local RadioShack stores. That aside, he is personally sold on the value of using weather radios.

“I guarantee if you were in that tornado, you would have appreciated it going off,” Jones said.

That’s why City Manager Mark Rohr wants to distribute radios to all Joplin households that do not have one. The cost for that is estimated at $300,440. The city applied for money from the State Emergency Management Agency to pay for the project, but it was denied.

Instead, the city has received a donation of $50,000 from the American Red Cross to buy some radios.

Rohr told the City Council on Monday that based on census numbers, there are 20,000 households in Joplin. A telephone survey has shown that 58 percent of those households do not have a weather radio, he said. He said that would mean about 11,000 radios are needed to equip every home.

He said he will ask for $250,000 from the Joplin Tornado First Response Fund to put with the Red Cross donation for ordering radios from Midland Radio Co. Rohr said a distribution program could be set up through the Joplin Fire Department. The City Council is to appoint a board of local residents to decide requests from that fund.

“I think it is a very important program and is a project I have been committed to for some time,” Rohr said in an email about the radio distribution. “I think it is something that can provide Joplin residents some level of comfort as we head into a new storm season.”

The city plans to distribute Midland Model No. WR-120.

“They transmit 24/7 weather for your area,” said Keith Stammer, the emergency preparedness director for Joplin and Jasper County. “When there is a watch or warning, they will transmit that over the radio. You can program it for whichever counties you want — in our case Jasper and Newton counties.”

One advantage of a weather radio is that it transmits the warning at the same time that it goes to the National Weather Service, Stammer said.

“The big thing for the owner is it is up close and personal,” he said. “The tornado sirens are designed to warn people outdoors to go inside and seek shelter. Many times people will not hear the sirens when they are inside with the television or radio playing. But with the weather radio, you pay attention to that, and you go over and listen to what they have to say.”

Additionally, the radios can be equipped with batteries so they can be carried into a closet or storm shelter for information delivery while people are taking cover.

Jones said he prefers a more expensive model that allows the owner to select the specific types of warnings to receive, such as high wind, tornado or severe thunderstorm, rather than more routine ones such as a forecast, winter storm watch or flood watch. That cuts down on the urge to shut off the radio if it goes off too many times with irrelevant information, Jones said.

“That has happened,” Stammer acknowledged. “There is no question” that some people shut off the radios and miss a vital warning.

But the frequency of broadcasts is not necessarily a detractor if the radio owner takes the opportunity to be educated.

“That’s not a bad thing that they have to listen to the watches because it makes them even more aware of the different kinds of weather and the weather situation surrounding them,” Stammer said.

Rohr wants to get the program going soon. The official start of storm season is March 1.

Rohr said the Fire Department will make a presentation at the next council meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, regarding weather notification procedures.

“It is important for citizens to tune in that evening” to the television broadcast of the meeting, Rohr said.

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