SOUTH BEND — The Pacific County Emergency Management Agency is working to fill a gap in the emergency alert system that came to Director Scott McDougall’s attention on Nov. 4.
Monthly All Hazard All Broadcast (AHAB) testing is conducted at noon on the first Monday of each month to make sure the county’s AHAB sirens are working properly. On Nov. 4 McDougall conducted a separate test of the Emergency Alert System that included the Hyper-Reach system.
“Almost on a whim I wanted to gauge a couple of things, so I put a message out on social media,” McDougall said. “I asked people if they had heard the test and how they respond to the test. I wanted to know was it something that had just simply become noise to them or was it something even when we were testing got their attention and that they paid attention to make sure it wasn’t a real event.”
Little south county response
North county residents said they heard the test and took it seriously.
South county was a different story, as McDougall received little to no feedback from residents.
“I decided to pull our emergency alert system plan that we have in place in our county with all the broadcasters in the area,” McDougall said. “It became apparent that we had this great relationship with the broadcasters in Grays Harbor County but we didn’t have a working relationship with the broadcasters in Astoria.”
McDougall continued, “so I looked into it a bit more and then sought advice from Washington state and sought advice from our local broadcasters up here. I also reached out to all the broadcasters in Astoria. What we found out was that the broadcasters in Astoria are not receiving a signal from us.”
FIPS code not received
Pacific County has its own Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) code that is entered into the Emergency Alert System test. But it wasn’t going to Astoria-area broadcasters.
“If we originated a warning to people in south Pacific County; the way things were they probably would have not received the alert via that method,” McDougall said. “I think it is really important to stress that there are many methods that we use for notification in the event of an emergency. We use NOAA radios. We use the reverse 911 system. We also have people in the south county who listen to Grays Harbor radio stations.”
Even with the gap in the system, if an event were to affect both the Washington and Oregon coastlines, residents in south county listening to a radio station in Astoria would still have been alerted, McDougall pointed out.
However, “If we had, for example, a dune fire and we needed people from Seaview to evacuate, that method may not have been as effective as we would like it to be,” McDougall said, “because some people may not have been able to get that information on their radios.”
Meeting with broadcasters
McDougall has scheduled a meeting with the broadcasters in Astoria for Thursday, Dec. 12, so that they can add Pacific County’s FIPS code to their emergency alert system receivers.
“They may not test as often down there as much as we test up here,” McDougall said.
“But they will still be sending out the Oregon test, so we will know the system works. We will know that if we have an actual emergency, they will hear it and will broadcast that information.”