I can’t count the number of times that I’ve been watching a TiVo’d program as it shows an emergency weather broadcast. I’ve jumped up from the couch to check the skies, only to remember that my show is recorded. It’s even more embarrassing because it’s happened more than once. Ironically, if I’m watching a prerecorded show, the real emergencies won’t get through to me.
There are some partial solutions. The Emergency Email and Wireless Network Web site will send you e-mail or SMS messages. Weatherbug and Weather.com will send you weather warnings. Most of the major online news services will send you news alerts. AtHoc offers many enterprise-focused, network-based alert products; their product and customer list is impressive.
Still, none of these are complete solutions.
I want international, national, regional, and local emergency warning. I want perimeter-based emergency systems of the type that could warn a school campus about a deranged killer. I want a personal warning system: If a loved one of mine gets injured or needs my help, I want them to hit one button (a la “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”). I want that message to reach me no matter what I’m doing.
We need an international agreement among broadcasters, media sources, media devices, and information sources on a universal standard for emergency broadcasts. How long will it be before we have this service? Why isn’t it already mandated? How many people will be watching their DVR as a tornado or chlorine gas cloud bears down on their house? How many people have been killed already because we don’t have a universal, pervasive system? Every device sold without a mandated warning system is an alert device wasted. Would it be as simple as properly equipping cell phones? After all, so many of us have one.
Both of my daughters weathered the Virginia Tech massacre news as well as anyone could. I’m strangely comforted that next year, my daughter will be attending what will probably be one of the most secure universities in the United States. I wouldn't be surprised to see armed guards or police stationed near every building. Next time the warning system will work. Such is the guaranteed outcome from our shared national tragedy. As a civilization, we humans are terrible about being proactive, but we excel in our overreaction to past threats.