Portlandish: Emergency Alert System

August 10, 2013

During the 35 years I lived in Philadelphia, I don’t think I ever saw the Emergency Alert System (or Emergency Broadcast System) used outside of the standard, regularly-scheduled testing.

You know the one: three crackly electronic beeps (that’s the official term) followed by the 1050Hz sound, and then a robot-esque voice stating whether it’s a test or sharing details on what the the actual emergency is.

EAS for Thunderstorms in the Portland Area

I will say this: those alert beeps do make you stop what you are doing and pay attention. I was shocked, however, when I didn’t hear the words, “This is just a test of the Emergency Broadcast System…”. Instead, I heard, “A severe thunderstorm alert has been issued…”

I won’t lie. The Philadelphian in me kind of chucked. They stopped all broadcasts for a thunderstorm! (I know, I know – it’s important to warn people about weather events, especially when the events are out of the norm, so I shouldn’t laugh.)

But seriously, I couldn’t help but think how watching shows start to finish would have been a rarity in Philadelphia between June and September if this was the norm. I feel like we would have gone bananas if shows were interrupted for weather events. Instead of the EAS, we had little warning maps in the corners of the screens. And even THOSE made viewers cranky because they took up about 1/4 of the bottom of the screen. I am feeling too lazy to Google the actual origins of those little maps right now, so I will just assume that, years ago, throngs of angry Philadelphians gave the local stations such a hard time when their programs were interrupted due to approaching thunderstorms that the television execs had to quickly find an alternative to the EAS …and, ta da! The little corner weather warning maps were born. Way to go, Philadelphia. First electricity, then the little corner weather warning maps. You rock. Hahaha.

Thunderstorms aren’t very common in the Portland area (I have only heard thunder twice since we moved here and seen one flash of lighting), so I guess they warrant an Emergency Alert. The warning advised people what to do if a storm struck – things like go indoors and stay away from windows. I never thought about it before, but I guess if thunderstorms aren’t the norm, you really may not know what to do?! Personally, the streaks of lightning and roaring thunder are indicative of proper behavior, but you can never assume…

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