How would you get a disaster warning?
When a confused employee sent out an emergency message warning of a missile attack to Hawaiians earlier this year, thousands feared for their lives, not knowing it was a mistake.
In St. Clair County, such a missile attack is not nearly as likely, but county emergency management officials are still prepared to send out warnings, no matter the threat, though their plans require verification from multiple levels.
There’s no one person to press a button in St. Clair County that would send out warning messages to all smartphones in the county. A threat would have to be verified by either federal or state government officials, or qualified emergency responders before alerts are sent out, says county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Herb Simmons.
National Public Radio first reported this week about whose job it is to send a warning to the public about missile attacks. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says disseminating those warnings is not its job, but rather that of local authorities, according to the agency’s manual.
In the event of a missile attack, the federal government will alert the state on where the missile will land through the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System, the country’s national alert and warning infrastructure. It’s then up to the state to notify local authorities, Mark Lucero, chief of engineering for the national warning system, told NPR.
That leaves local agencies like St. Clair County EMA responsible for “blowing all the whistles,” Simmons said, after states notify them of an impending attack.
The county doesn’t have a comprehensive emergency phone alert system like Hawaii does, Simmons said, but instead the county agency relies on social media, news organizations and warning sirens to alert the public.
More than 23,000 people follow the agency’s Facebook page, where moderators post real-time information about emergencies.
But the agency also relies on local communities with emergency warning systems, like CodeRED mobile alerts. The mobile application allows the city’s 911 center to send out a recorded voice messages and text messages to residents in a specific area. Belleville, Dupo and East Carondelet are among the metro-east cities offering the service.
In the case of a missile attack, the chain of communication would likely go from the federal government, to the state, to the county, to the local 911 center, Simmons said.
"There's no one group that can handle that kind of threat alone," Simmons said.
Simmons recommends everyone call their local city hall to see if their community offers such services, which users often have to opt-in to or sign up for.
In the meantime, Simmons says he’s not so worried about missile attacks in the Midwest as he is about earthquakes or tornadoes.
No matter the threat, Simmons says it’s important for individuals to be prepared with an emergency survival kit and to know where their emergency information will come from.