WASHINGTON – When the squeal from an automated warning radio brought news a severe storm was approaching, school principal William Tomic acted quickly. He alerted teachers to bring children indoors to a secure interior hallway for shelter.
Minutes later, 70 mph winds ripped the roof off the kindergarten wing of the Charles F. Johnson Elementary School in Endicott, N.Y.
No one was hurt, thanks to the warning and the timely response to it.
Hoping for more such success stories, the government planned to announce today that it will supply hazard warning radios to all 97,000 public schools in the United States.
Washington is one of six states that already mandate the use of radios in schools. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said those schools will also be included in the new program to make sure they have the most recent models. Also included will be tribal schools and public schools in U.S. territories.
The National Weather Service, part of the NOAA, operates more than 950 short-range radio stations. It has encouraged schools, businesses and homeowners to buy warning radios that are activated with a broadcast signal that automatically turns a radio on and announces a potential hazard.
The Homeland Security Department now has decided to provide $5 million to make sure these radios are in every public school, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said. Distribution should begin next month.
Originally conceived as a means to deliver weather warnings, the system now covers all hazards – for example, terrorism, abducted children and derailed trains carrying toxic materials.
The radios operate 24 hours a day, receiving forecasts and warnings from the Weather Service’s 123 forecast offices as well as other information. They cost $20 to $80.