As recently reported by Inside Towers, a number of California residents received a fire alert that was not intended for them. More worrisome are reports from residents who needed an alert and never received one. As CalMatters told KXTV-TV in Sacramento, the big problem is that people do not realize that they need to opt-in to receive cell phone alerts. The system currently in place can trigger an alert to landline phones, but will only flag cell phones that are enrolled to receive a warning.
Californians who want to receive the danger alerts need to sign up for Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). At the site, registrants are directed to enroll by county so that they will receive messages that target their area and notify them of approaching dangers and evacuation orders.
Some areas of the state that experience the highest losses from wildfires have the fewest number of residents enrolled for WEA alerts. The low percentage of enrollees demonstrates that the majority of people who need to hear the warnings are not receiving them, according to the account.
“You’ve got to sign up and, frankly, very few people do,” said Director Ken Dueker, Office of Emergency Services Palo Alto. “I don’t blame them because they don’t know about the tool; they falsely assume the government has these magic, omniscient powers to notify. The public expects us to have more improved tools and more finesse than we currently do.”
Even people who do sign up for Butte County’s CodeRED system, for example, can miss warnings when a cell tower loses power. While residents are still encouraged to sign up for WEAs, there is growing support for old-fashioned but effective communications like ringing church bells or booming foghorns. When technology fails, or humans fail to use technological resources that are available to them, lives can be lost, according to KXTV-TV.
“Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee the targeted population has cell service, phone not on ‘silent’ and nearby, or an internet or landline signal,” stated Le-Rom Cummings, a spokesperson for the Solano County Sheriff’s Office. “This is also why we follow up with door-to-door and siren notifications by law enforcement.”