A Question for the Experts

January 4, 2015 · 1 comment

There have been many thoughtful questions raised throughout this weekend’s AMS Student Conference, but one question posed at the communications breakout session on Saturday proved particularly challenging for the panelists. A student asked, “How do you educate the public that doesn’t have access to television or social media? How do we educate the homeless about severe weather events?”

Here were the responses from the panelists:

Marshall Shepherd, Univ. of Georgia: I think you’re hitting on a key question. The homeless question…that’s tough. These are the people who aren’t watching, necessarily. That really involves grassroots efforts. TV stations can be involved in galvanizing and organizing. So, for example, I teach a class at the University of Georgia on urban climate, and one of the projects I ask students to do is look at tornado sirens in the Athens/Clark County region. One of the things we found was that the way the tornado sirens were distributed, there were significant parts of the population—particularly those who were underserved or lower income—who didn’t even have sirens where they lived.

So I think there’s a whole notion of increased social sciences and environmental justice and all types of issues that we all have to be aware of and address.  I don’t know the answer to that question you asked, and I think there’s an opportunity.

Ginger Zee, ABC News: I’ve done four stories on that same thing of the sirens, because there’s no federal law, state law, no county law in any state that says there has to be one. I grew up in Michigan and we had them in every single town. It’s amazing to me that there are places that don’t have them, especially in places that really need them but don’t. Requiring outdoor warning systems—I don’t know if that’s going to happen; it’s not going to be funded.

I think the community outreach part is probably your best bet. You guys remember in Virginia this year, there was a camp with a bunch of kids outdoors and a long line of storms on the ground for three hours. It’s amazing to me that they still didn’t have warning. That can’t go on.  There was one kid who died. That shouldn’t have happened, because once they got indoors they were safe inside. If that was a fire and they didn’t have a smoke alarms, we would not be having the same discussion. They would have been sued like crazy.

Weather has grown…our ability to forecast has grown and now the whole policy part of it has to catch up. I think that will take time.

Keli Pirtle, NOAA: The National Weather Service works with local emergency managers to help prepare communities through the Storm Ready program.  I would hope that a shelter, like a homeless shelter, would have a NOAA Weather Radio. That’s a hope more than a reality, I’m afraid.  We can encourage people—churches, nursing homes, schools—to have multiple ways to receive information, to have a plan. A homeless person on the street, they’re in touch with others. I would hope the network on the street would get them the information, but it’s certainly an area where we desperately need to improve.

Jorge Torres, KOB-TV: And I agree with that. At our station, we’re partners with the Red Cross, and with the Roadrunner Food Bank of New Mexico, which helps feed the hungry because New Mexico is, I believe, the number one state in the country for childhood hunger. So we do have outreach programs with the lower-income communities. But that’s not in the form of weather [information] mostly, it’s in the form of talking to them. I do think you bring up a good point that those who don’t watch us, can’t watch us. They’re the ones who deal with the elements much more—the homeless especially—than the rest of us because we have a roof over our head and they don’t.