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by Robert Avsec

5 apps for firehouse tornado preparedness

Mobile apps provide needed data to help fire departments prepare for a tornado

By Robert Avsec

Tornados, tropical systems and severe thunderstorms with straight-line winds cause hundreds of deaths and billions of dollars in property losses annually in the U.S. with an average of 750 tornados annually.

While all severe weather poses threats, tornados are particularly dangerous because, unlike a tracking hurricane, it is difficult to determine when or where a tornado may strike, and the sustained winds of even a F1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Tornado Intensity Scale can reach 110 mph.

That means residents as well as the public-safety personnel protecting them need to be aware of wireless applications for advanced tornado alerts. Such alerts can provide fire department personnel time to react before the tornado touches ground and what departments can do to provide appropriate shelter for personnel in a tornado's path.

SAF-T-Net by Baron Services

The Alabama SAF-T-Net (Specific Alerting for Threats) uses its proprietary technology to deliver text notifications of dangerous weather conditions specific to the user's location — up to 15 minutes before the storm hits. It also including immediate notification of National Weather Service warnings. 

The free service includes: track a single street address; receive standard issue NWS warnings; and receive a SMS text message or email. The premium service (starting at $3.99 per month) includes: tracking up to four street addresses; receive location-specific alerts; receive a phone call, SMS text message or email; mobile GPS alerting on Blackberry with iPhone and Android coming soon; and the Baron Tornado Index.

Tornado shelters for firehouses

  • The Above-Ground Tornado Safe Sheds from Safe Sheds: These are constructed using precast, reinforced concrete with a stucco exterior and painted white interior that meets FEMA Publication 320's safe room design criteria. The 8- x 10-foot model can accommodate up to six adults per the FEMA standard.
  • The Model 10056 – Guardian from Tornado Alley Armor: These units can house up to 10 adults. Constructed with 10-gauge hot-rolled ASTM 1011-CS Type B steel, Guardian meets FEMA 320 and FEMA 361 and ICC-500 standards and is tested to withstand the EF5 tornado missiles test conducted by the Texas Tech University’s (TTU) Wind Science and Engineering Research Center.
  • Storm Shelters and Safe Rooms from Secural: These above ground tornado shelters comply with the recommendations established in the documents FEMA 320 and ICC-500. The shelters passed the F5 tornado missile Impact resistance tests at TTU.

Storm Shield Weather Radio

The Storm Shield Weather Radio app turns a wireless device into a NOAA emergency weather radio. The user receives storm-based alerts for tornado, hurricane, flood, thunderstorm, winter storm seasons and other life-threatening weather events via voice and push notification. The app can receive critical alerts via voice and push notification alerts other users, like family members, which have been added to an individual's preferences within the app.

Tornado by American Red Cross App

Free for Android and iPhone, the American Red Cross Tornado app features an audible siren when NOAA issues a tornado warning for any of the monitored locations imputed by the user. The app lets a user know when it is time to go to a safe room plus an all-clear alert when the warning expires.

The app also includes step-by-step instructions to help you know what to do even if cell towers and TVs are down. Prioritized actions for before, during, and after a tornado requires no mobile connectivity

WeatherBug Protect

Available for Android and iPhone on the Verizon network, WeatherBug Protect is a collaborative effort between Verizon Wireless and WeatherBug. The app turns a Verizon Wireless mobile device into a weather notification device, providing advanced warning of lightning, tornadoes, extreme temperatures, flash flooding, high winds, hurricanes and more.

The app taps into the WeatherBug Network of U.S. weather sensors, providing real-time, local alerts integrated with notifications from the National Weather Service. The app also monitors potentially threatening weather conditions, including lightning activity, severe storms, heavy rainfall, high-heat index, high-wind gusts and more. It also delivers real-time lightning warnings and is linked to the intracloud and cloud-to-ground lightning detection network.

Wireless Emergency Alerts

The CTIA, a wireless industry trade group, along with the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Emergency Management Agency, developed the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to send concise, text-like messages to users' WEA-capable mobile devices. The service became operational in 2012. 

WEAs use a point-to-multipoint system, which means alert messages will be sent to those within a targeted area, unlike text messages which are not location aware. For example, if a person from Southern California has a WEA-capable device, but happened to be in an area outside Tulsa, Okla., the device would receive an imminent-threat alert when a tornado warning is issued for the affected area of Oklahoma. 

About the author

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va. Contact Robert at Robert.Avsec@FireRescue1.com


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