Tuesday, July 23, 2013

When Warnings Become A Noisy Problem (Or Do They?)

If last night's storms and their associated sound and light show were not enough, a percentage of the rest of you were awaken at 2:30 this morning by the sound of a beeping phone as Flash Flood Warnings were issued for much of the immediate Philly metro.

Various cell phone providers, as new phones are being issued, are equipped with emergency alert capability, which allows you to be warned in case of severe weather, amber alerts, and so forth.  At the surface, these warnings do provide timely information that may be of benefit to a number of individuals.  At what level should these warnings be provided?

Is a flash flood warning in the middle of the night, when many of us are sleeping, enough justification to have phones beeping, blaring, or sounding alarms?  Should the phone owner be able to pick and choose which weather warning they get?  More importantly, do you even care to be alerted by phone?

I posed this question on our Facebook this morning to gauge a sense of opinion on this topic, and many folks seemed divided in their take.  Some support the idea of having information...others merely disabled the warning prompts from their phone to begin with and just rolled from there.

My phone has the capability to tier warnings based on level of "nastiness" -- I have four settings...Presidential the one I can never unload.  The others, extreme, severe, and amber can be toggled on or off as I see fit.  Most newer phones that use Android, plus the last few generations of iPhones, have this capability...usually in different spots based on the phone.  HTC (which I use) has the options in the message settings, with Apple under the settings/notification settings pathway.

There are apps out there (iMap Weather Radio is one, WeatherBug is another, and there are others that you can find based on the phone you have) that can give you the creativity and craft warning prompts based on what you want to receive.  Ideally, the sms alert system that is on cell phones would give this level of creativity in the future -- I don't live in a flood plain nor do I travel through flood zones, so a flash flood warning prompt at 3 AM is meaningless to me.  If I lived near the Perkiomen, Brandywine, or Christina...all streams that tend to flood easily, having that prompt would be a lot more meaningful. Having a prompt for a tornado warning makes sense....as may a severe thunderstorm warning...I debate this part occasionally, but definitely having the tornado warning prompt is a minimal starting point.

Until one's cell phone gets that capability in the built in SMS emergencies, there are work-arounds that you can build in.  You just need to be able to stop the one level of warning prompts on the built in phone and be willing to download an app (and sacrifice some precious megabytes) to have that convenience.