Category Archives: public safety

University demonstrates questionable understanding of tornado warnings

It’s really important that anyone who is in charge of the safety of an institution — a university campus, for example — maintain an updated, working knowledge of how weather warnings work. Tweets sent today by Indiana University today could lead one to believe that its campus safety staff could benefit from some education in that area.

At 1:19 p.m. EST, the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tornado warning that included a portion of southern Monroe County, Indiana.  The warning came with a polygon that clearly showed that the IU campus was not included.

Polygon associated with Nov. 5 tornado warning near Bloomington, IN. The National Weather Service issued the warning only for the area inside the red polygon.

In addition, the text of the warning indicated that “a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located 12 miles northwest of Bedford, moving east at 30 mph.” In other words, the storm was not moving toward Bloomington or the IU campus (which is why NWS meteorologists drew the polygon as they did).

Six minutes after the NWS issued the warning, IU sent a tweet at 1:25 regarding what it called a “tornado warning for Bloomington.”

Cody Kirkpatrick, an IU lecturer in atmospheric science, attempted to clarify IU’s tweet:

The IU Twitter account replied:

Dr. Kirkpatrick knew what he was talking about. Those sending tweets on behalf of IU demonstrated ignorance of the National Weather Service’s “storm-based warning” system. When the NWS implemented that system a decade ago, it replaced the county-wide warnings to which IU’s tweet refers, with warnings based on polygons that indicate where the actual risk is.

In subsequent tweets, Dr. Kirkpatrick attempted to point that out, as well as the fact that IU’s original tweet was ambiguous. IU’s response:

But is warning people who are not at risk really better than warning only people who are truly at risk? Is doing so truly “safe,” or does it exacerbate existing challenges with getting people to respond appropriately to warnings?

The people at any institution like IU, who are in charge of disseminating public safety information, would do well to take full advantage of the informational resources that exist among their own faculty. Doing so could lead to better weather safety communications in the future.

What residents need to know about their new outdoor warning siren

Tornado siren. Outdoor warning sirens are not intended to be heard indoors.

Blogger’s note: Below is an article I submitted to the “The Waynedale News,” a neighborhood newspaper in Fort Wayne, Indiana. If refers to the installation of an outdoor warning siren in a neighborhood that had been without one for years. The newspaper published the article July 7, 2017.

The new outdoor warning siren that’s coming to Waynedale brings with it some true risks that area residents might not have considered. Chief among those risks are over reliance and desensitization. Continue reading