by Jim McCarty
When work is completed
on a pair of Weather Radio transmitters in Moniteau and Ozark counties
Missouri can claim to be the first state in the nation to provide its
citizens with nearly 100 percent early warning coverage.
electric cooperatives played a big role in making it happen. When this
project started in 1995 Missouri had 10 Weather Radio transmitters in
place. For the most part, they delivered early warnings to residents of
the states big cities. In a move that reminded many of the early
days of electrification, rural people were forgotten when the money ran
Only 50 percent
of Missouris population could receive life-saving warnings from
the National Weather Service. Rural people who lived far from communities
with warning sirens were really without any effective way to be notified
in the event of an emergency.
was a transmitter located in the Sikeston area that was installed on a
radio tower owned by M&A Electric Power Cooperative. This public/private
partnership became the model for nearly a decades work that led
to todays near-total coverage of the state.
is the National Weather Services term for a system of radio transmitters
that can activate small personal receivers to warn of approaching bad
weather. While commercial TV and radio stations carry the same warnings,
Weather Radio receivers go one step further. Set to the alert mode, they
can turn themselves on in the middle of the night with an ear-piercing
alarm that would wake the dead.
In the event of
a tornado, when seconds can mean the difference between life and death,
a Weather Radio warning offers enough time to seek shelter but
only if you are in range of its signal.
It took a Palm
Sunday disaster at an Alabama church to alert the nation to the lack of
coverage for rural people. When then-Vice President Al Gore called for
a new effort to complete the job, electric cooperatives in Missouri were
the first to answer the challenge.
State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) worked with the Association of
Missouri Electric Cooperatives and the National Weather Service to install
the first transmitters under the new effort in 1996 at Bourbon and Summersville.
These transmitters went on sites owned by Crawford and Intercounty electric
co-ops, and the co-ops along with Show-Me Power also provided power, back-up
generators and money for transmitters.
Others would quickly
follow. In 1997 southeast Missouri electric cooperatives helped install
transmitters near Doniphan, Cedar Mountain, Piedmont and Gideon. Three
years later Northeast Missouri Electric Power Cooperative dedicated three
300-watt transmitters near Kahoka, Lancaster and LaPlata. The co-op, which
supplies power to two Iowa co-ops as well, also installed three transmitters
in southern Iowa.
Electric Cooperative worked with U.S. Rep. JoAnn Emerson to secure funding
for two more transmitters installed in 2000 near West Plains and Alton.
was next. On May 10, 2001, KAMO Electric Power Co-op and member systems
Sac Osage and Osage Valley helped bring two 1,000-watt transmitters on-line
at El Dorado Springs and Clinton. The Pettis County emergency manager
was so delighted by the new coverage that he arranged a partnership with
the local Radio Shack to offer a special on receivers. The store sold
2,000 radios in one month.
Before long Weather
Radio came to Branson with the help of White River Valley Electric Cooperative.
The last step was the northwest corner. Transmitters were installed in
four locations Cameron, Carrollton, Trenton and Maryville with
the assistance of area electric cooperatives. The Carrollton transmitter
featured a new partner. Radio station KMZU provided tower space.
In April a new
transmitter at Cape Girardeau paid for by Citizens Electric was dedicated.
It will improve coverage for Cape and Perry counties. The last gaps in
the coverage area should be filled when a new transmitter goes on-line
at Gainesville, probably by the time you read this, and at Prairie Home
in Moniteau County. SEMA is also working at plugging a coverage gap in
the Ft. Leonard Wood area.
While 100 percent
coverage is never going to be possible in the rugged terrain of the Ozarks,
the completion of this great effort will get Missouri as close as possible
to that goal. Future advances will bring early warnings to more and more
people. Already the technology has improved so warnings can be issued
for specific counties.
The warnings are
in place. What remains to be done is to spread the word that Weather Radio
has come to rural Missouri. Most of Missouris electric cooperatives
donated receivers to schools, nursing homes and hospitals in their service
need to purchase receivers and become familiar with how they work. The
warning does no good if no one is listening.
electric cooperatives hope everyone in the state will purchase a Weather
Radio receiver. Many co-ops are offering them for sale. They can also
be purchased at Radio Shack and other electronics stores.
The cost is small.
The savings measured in human lives can not be calculated.