Weather alerts useless unless cellphone users allow them

Rick Rouan The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

If the sirens blaring in Franklin County didn’t alert you that a storm capable of producing a tornado was rolling through the area late Monday night, your smartphone did.

That is, if you were set up to receive the alerts.

A federal public alert system blasted push alerts to smartphones in the area where the National Weather Service declared a tornado warning. Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security also sent alerts through its own system, which launched in 2015.

A sound sleeper who turned off the ringer on their phone, though, could have slept through the warning and only discovered the next morning that devastating storms had passed through the area overnight.

Smartphones are opted into the federal Wireless Emergency Alerts system by default, but users can turn them off through a setting in their phone. Those alerts are for extreme weather, missing children, and presidential alerts during a national emergency.

Those alerts require no login or password. You can ensure that you are subscribed by checking the alert settings on your phone. Users who have their phone set to silent, vibrate or “do not disturb” mode, though, won’t receive an audible alert.

The federal alerts can pinpoint phones in small geographic areas, sending a screeching audible alert.

Franklin County’s system requires a free account, and it has far more localized options for receiving alerts.

The Alert Franklin County notification system will let users subscribe to alerts for their city or township, along with larger scale severe weather updates. The alerts can come as a text message, an email or phone call, and multiple phone numbers can be used.

Phone calls can go to landlines as well, said Jeff Young, director of Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Since the system began in 2015, about 20,000 accounts have been created, far short of the number of people who live in Franklin County. To sign up for the county alert system, visit

Like the federal system, though, the county’s is dependent on users leaving notifications on for their mobile devices.

“There are ways you can go into your settings in many devices and disable notifications or alerts. If you’ve done that you’re not going to receive them. We encourage people to leave those on,” he said.

Franklin County Emergency Management also manages the tornado sirens for the county. Young said the division divides the city into four quadrants. If a tornado warning is issued for a small area that touches a quadrant, all of the sirens ring throughout the entire quadrant.

On Monday night, tornado sirens initially were used only in the southern quadrants, but Young said the northern quadrants came under a second tornado warning, triggering sirens there as well.

“Have multiple methods to receive a warning. If you’re hearing a siren there is severe weather in the area and you do need to take action and find out what’s going on,” he said.

Rick Rouan The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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