Have you noticed? Government tends to become overprotective when public safety is the issue. I am all for reasonable efforts but there is an ongoing campaign in Joplin Missouri now that is over the top and misguided, in my opinion. It has to do, not surprisingly, with tornados.
A while back our City Manager, an efficient and some would even say heroic figure in our disaster recovery efforts, proposed that the city buy 11,600 “weather radios” for citizens who didn’t already have one, something that at $25 a pop would cost almost $300,000. An article in today’s Joplin Globe says that a five-member newly-appointed citizens’ board in a “hastily assembled session” has decided to authorize the purchase of 4,000 radios on a trial basis. Just why the decision had to be “hasty” isn’t clear, but I suspect it has to do with uncertainty about the efficacy of the solution. They should be uncertain in my opinion because I think it’s wrong.
It is human nature to overreact to big events, 9/11 being a good example, I submit. Heck, a small gang of religious fanatics carried out an unprecedented suicide plan, hijacked four airplanes in a way that had never been done before, and got lucky against an unprepared system. And what did we do? We started two unnecessary wars, tried to rebuild two entire countries, added massive bureaucratic layers to law enforcement and intelligence bureaucracies, armored all cockpit doors on airplanes, armed pilots with handguns, let the military industrial complex budget rise unchecked, added hundreds of air marshals, and searched every passenger including grannies and kids, confiscating their tweezers, and baby bottles. Did all that work? Sure, no more planes flying into buildings. Was it overreaction? Big time, in my opinion. It’s kind of like elephant-retardant spray – works every time in Joplin.
But, I digress. Back to the weather radios. I had one of those at one time and when the Spring storms came I stood it for about an hour before I had all I could take. The things have 7 VHF channels, so you tune to the one you think closest to you and then it goes off every time a thunderstorm or weather event happens within 50 to 100 miles of you, and the racket is virtually constant, fading to an irritating background noise that is still hard to ignore. Annoying is what it is, and too much for me to take. And besides, if storms are happening, there’s always the warnings on TV with the banners running across the bottom of the screen and distorting your picture, even though the threat is, most of the time, far away in another county. As for leaving the things activated at night, just imagine trying to get some sleep with the thing droning about every thunderstorm within an 80-mile radius! Ridiculous.
Then, there are the outdoor sirens for people who may be outside. Some people commented that they were tested too often and that they therefore ignored them when the real thing came. Probably true. When the EF-5 tornado hit Joplin two miles south of our house I was out on the back porch looking for funnel clouds to see if we should run for the bath tub. Never did see it – just blackness, wind and hail, and we never did get in the tub. Wouldn’t have saved us if we did, if it had hit us square.
A lot of this flailing is going to be wasted effort and expense, I think, and I would like to suggest a better solution than weather radios. It’s called Weather Call and it uses information from the National Weather Service. The way it works, you pay $9.95 a year (or less, through a sponsoring TV station) and in return the Weather Call system sends your home phone a robo call, if and only if a real threat is approaching your specific geographic location. I had Weather Call last year and only got three calls all year – two of them were the evening of the EF-5 tornado. (Next call I get, we are headed to a tornado shelter down the street!) Accuracy, dependability, and no constant distractions – what could be better? I understand that it will even work with mobile phones through the GPS system. Wouldn’t this be better than constant annoyances that are statistically unlikely to matter? For the price of 11,600 weather radios the city could subsidize WeatherCall for all Joplin’s citizens for many years, and what’s more, it would actually work!
Hmm. What did I do with that weather radio? Oh, right. Sold it at a garage sale, and I’ll bet you a $10,000 Romney-dollar bet that it’s gathering dust in a closet somewhere. If Joplin continues to overreact, there are going to be a lot more radios gathering dust all over town, IMO.