By Anna Porteus · April 25, 2017
Campus administrators know the importance of severe weather safety, and new technologies have made it easier than ever to predict and prepare for severe weather.
Those advancements are important because the number of preliminary reports of severe weather across the United States so far in 2017 is 5,372, more than double the average from the same period over the past 10 years.
At the same time, the Aon Benfield Global Catastrophe Recap estimated that severe weather exacted a $1 billion toll in the U.S. and Australia just in the first two months of 2017 alone (in part due to the volume of severe weather outbreaks).
All this means that severe weather safety is top of mind for campus emergency managers, security directors and other decision makers responsible for ensuring student, faculty and visitor safety when severe weather strikes. As these individuals evaluate the best severe weather alerts, data and other tools for a comprehensive approach to severe weather safety, there are four key capabilities to consider.
Severe Weather Alert Capabilities
Imagine an outdoor graduation ceremony filled with thousands of people, some of whom could be elderly and disabled while many are visitors unfamiliar with the campus. An impending storm is on the horizon, and campus officials responsible for severe weather safety must help this large group as quickly and effectively as possible. This requires outdoor severe weather alerts with the longest lead times possible to provide ample time for all guests and employees to seek the appropriate shelter.
When it comes to severe weather safety, every second of advance warning counts. Deadly severe weather events often strike within 5 to 30 minutes of in-cloud lightning flash initiation. The lightning that you see and hear during storms is only a small fraction of the lightning indicator in a storm. In-cloud (IC) lightning is a proven indicator of severe approaching storms, meaning that mass notification systems must be powerful, immediate and accurate enough to reach individuals across your campus to notify them of impending severe weather threats.
While some campuses may view portable severe weather alerting devices, watching television, or following smartphone weather widgets as an option, such strategies have significant shortcomings that will impact campus safety operations. For one, television and smartphone apps broadcast weather conditions in a broad local area which aren’t precise or relevant for a specific location, and portable systems need to be turned on each day, monitored, and charged (manually-intensive steps that can be easily forgotten or improperly executed).
A robust outdoor severe weather alerting system should be fully integrated with advanced lightning detection technology in order to determine exactly where lightning is striking, signifying to those on campus to seek shelter. At the same time, the severe weather safety network must deliver a high-decibel signal for maximum coverage, and ideally will include omni-directional audio and visual signals to reach the highest number of people and prevent campuses from having to deploy a large number of systems.
Finally, campus safety decision makers should seek outdoor alerting systems capable of automated text and email alerts to recipients whenever severe weather safety is deemed imminent. Automating as much of the alerting process as possible reduces the likelihood of mistakes or delays caused by human error and confusion.
Severe Weather Indoor Alerting Capabilities
Outdoor severe weather alerting capabilities enable campuses to ensure those in harm’s way seek shelter. But equally critical and often overlooked within a comprehensive severe weather safety approach is how alerts are communicated to individuals inside buildings, dorms and other facilities.
Campuses should seek severe weather alerts with integrated outdoor-indoor capabilities, and a strong indoor alerting system that activates when lightning approaches within a low mile radius, providing advanced warning of impending severe weather conditions to internal operations staff. From a usability standpoint, the system should be easy to manage, including clear control buttons for adjustable volume and signals for alerts and the all clear.
Advanced Lightning Data
Lightning has long been viewed by meteorologists simply as a weather byproduct, but lightning analysis technology has advanced to the point where lightning activity is now being used to predict atmospheric events and improve severe weather safety.
Total lightning detection is critical for advanced prediction and forecasting of severe weather in order to pinpoint exactly where and what type of lightning is striking.
Any campus outdoor severe weather alerting system should include lightning sensors able to detect both cloud-to-ground (CG) and in-cloud (IC) lightning strikes in order to alert faculty and staff to the severity of the threat. And the best lightning sensors will draw data from a comprehensive lightning sensing network, which maps a more complete picture of severe weather in a given area.
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As noted, IC lightning serves as a precursor to severe weather, such as heavy rain, large hail, dangerous cloud-to-ground lightning strikes, tornadoes and downburst winds, while CG lightning poses the greatest risk to life and property since it strikes the ground.
Through access to advanced lightning data, campus personnel can improve severe weather alerts’ lead times over radar and other technologies, while leveraging highly advanced predictive capabilities crucial for characterizing severe storm precursors. As a result, lightning data has become a core component of campus weather management planning.
Collaboration, Information Sharing Key for Severe Weather Safety
The value of severe weather safety systems and sensors for campuses is determined by the ability to convert the data they produce into actionable information that can be shared in real-time, not only with the individuals that campuses are responsible for protecting, but also among safety and security personnel.
Campuses increasingly have access to web or software-based severe weather monitoring, visualization and alerting platforms with real-time collaboration capabilities so that personnel can make intelligent weather-related decisions, increase response planning lead time and minimize campus operational downtime.
The ability for campus emergency personnel to engage with dispersed colleagues in other locations ensures that everyone is on the same page when it comes to critical-decision making.
Finally, effective collaboration recognizes that campus personnel want to be kept up-to-date using a broad range of desktop and mobile devices. When stakeholders are on-the-move leading up to and during severe weather events, enabling users to, for example, receive push notifications personalized for individual users based on their location can increase response lead times. Contextual mapping allows users to view both the alert and the affected location through an intuitive mobile interface.
For campus safety stakeholders, the severe weather threat has become more complex and frequent. This necessitates a comprehensive severe weather safety approach to prepare for and manage these threats.
Anna Porteus is the Director of Marketing Communications at Earth Networks.
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