So the FCC is revamping the alert system, eh?

Warning people of imminent danger is one of the cornerstones of broadcasting. Consider the current debate in Florida over broadcasters’ decision to tell viewers that Hurricane Charley had changed course and was headed through central Florida. The National Weather Service gave the alert 2–3 hours after broadcasters. Two hours! Three hours! WFTV news director, Bob Jordan, told NewsBlues, “We don’t consider (the NWS) the holy grail anymore. There was a time the post office was the only game in town. Those days are over too. No self-respecting TV station simply regurgitates the weather forecast.”

The National Weather Service got defensive. According to NewsBlues, Meteorologist Bart Hagemeyer reacted, “This competing thing is not right. We’re supposed to work together. It’s a longstanding tradition.”

That tradition has become increasingly irrelevant as technology has enabled broadcast meteorologists to do their own thing. In Huntsville, Alabama, WHNT meteorologist, Dan Satterfield, has long taken the position that he will do and say whatever it takes to save lives. This has ruffled feathers at the NWS, who rightly say that only they have the authority to issue tornado warnings.

So now, the FCC has unveiled a plan to — as reported in Broadcasting and Cable — turn the Emergency Alert System from a Cold War relic into a digital-age defense against terrorist attacks and other catastrophes.

Ultimately, the regulators are seeking to require that all broadcasters relay local alerts via an always-on digital version of today’s system. They envision a day when interactive DTV links could deliver evacuation routes in a local disaster, for example, to Web sites or even to cellphones and other wireless devices. Citizens could ideally access alerts away from home or receive wakeup warning calls.

The top goal is give the public better information about pending storms, toxic threats, medical facilities and evacuation routes during local emergencies, a component that has been an afterthought to most emergency planners since the system was conceived in the 1950s.

“Pending storms?” Do I really want Comcast’s clumsy technology covering the wall-to-wall coverage of broadcasters who are already deep into storms? This happens in Nashville, and I assume it does elsewhere as well. And, considering what happened in Florida, who honestly believes the government can warn me first anymore?

I hate to come off as cynical, but as someone who lived through the 50s Cold War, I can tell you that the people of this country felt a genuine, ongoing and imminent threat back then. We didn’t do air raid drills at school because we enjoyed it; we were preparing for an attack. When the Emergency Broadcast System was launched, we accepted the routine tests as a necessary evil. More than anything else, those tests reminded us of the clear and present danger, which was just fine with the political side of government.


  1. Dan Satterfield is a jackass. Many people — including teachers, daycare workers, hospitals, EMS, and countless others — have specific protocols they are required to follow for a tornado warning. To figure out if it’s a real warning or if it’s a Dan-needs-an-ego-boost warning requires a delay that could end lives, not save them.

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