'What's With All The Emergency Alerts?!?! Football Is On!!!'
by Lindsay Nadrich, KHQ Local News Reporter - email
As part of the emergency alert system, stations like KHQ are required to run the alerts in two ways. That means the message has to be put up visually for people to read and that the audio has to run at the same time. Therefore, if you were watching the Seahawks game Sunday night and saw the alert crawl across the top of your screen, it is because there is a federal law that requires it.
However, on top of the crawl, some viewers saw a more intrusive alert.
A weather alert was issued for weather events like hail in excess of an inch or if thunderstorms with high winds are expected. Sunday night, that is exactly what happened.
"You can see a number of storms, thunderstorms here," said National Weather Service Meteorologist in Charge John Livingston, while pointing to the storm radar from Sunday.
A new weather alert is issued each time the storm reaches a new county.
"In a situation like yesterday, where the thing is long lived, it was coming, you know, it held together a long time, you get multiple warnings for the same event," Livingston said.
So why not just issue one alert for everyone at the same time, instead of one every five minutes?
"Your media market, and the other stations here, covers a large area, so we could issue a warning for some place a long ways away that your station serves," Livingston said. "You know the majority of the people are here, but out there, there's something going on."
However, aside from the crawl and the audio message KHQ is required to put on the screen, cable providers like DirecTV and Comcast can also issue it's own alerts. Those are completely separate and sometimes more intrusive than the ones KHQ ran Sunday.
"Last night there was kind of a nexus of warnings and a lot of people who wanted to watch TV," Livingston said.
So, it was just bad timing to say the least. In Spokane, it is the way Comcast handled the warnings that had many viewers upset as they tried to watch the Seahawks game.
No matter what station you were watching, you would have seen a full screen weather alert in Spokane if you are a Comcast customer. That full screen alert would have covered up whatever program you were watching completely.
"Different people do it different ways," Livingston said. "If you go back east into the tornado belt, they have a lot of experience with it and maybe do it different than others."
Comcast told KHQ Monday, that it is not required to run the alerts. Comcast says it set up the system to run them in Spokane many years ago and it has not changed that system. The alerts are set up to run automatically.
The National Weather Service says Spokane receives these alerts more often because of the Mount St. Helens eruption. However, that was more than 33 years ago. Both the weather service and Comcast say making the system less intrusive is something they are constantly discussing.
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