Lightning safety campaign targets deaf and hard of hearing


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The National Weather Service is rolling out a new national campaign that caters to the deaf and hard of hearing community. For ten years, the slogan “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors” has been the message.

However, the NWS got feedback that that message simply didn’t apply to deaf and hard of hearing people, who could potentially be at higher risk in a developing storm situation due to the inability to hear thunder. The new campaign adds the slogan, “See a Flash, Dash Inside.” It stresses visual cues for people to take shelter when storms are coming.

There are 25 million lightning strikes in the U.S. each year, and six people have died from lightning strikes in 2016 so far. Lightning can be tricky, as strikes can come miles away from a storm. There’s even a recorded instance of a lightning strike over 100 miles away from the main storm: from Dallas to Waco. The National Weather Service is working to expand alerts for blind, visually impaired, deaf and hard of hearing communities, and the NWS chose lightning safety education as its first national campaign.

For the past 10 years, alerts for the deaf community have been available through NOAA Weather Radios that have a digital readout feature and a signal light to indicate a message is coming through. The message is short, and doesn’t have much detail. So people usually then turn to broadcast media, where live closed captioning covers breaking weather situations.

Bobbie Beth Scoggins, Director of Educational Resource Center on Deafness for the Texas School for the Deaf says it often feels like the deaf and hard of hearing community gets the information after the event has already occurred. In the October floods of 2015 people were released from TSD only to find out that water was blocking roads close to the school.

Austin is home to a large deaf and hard of hearing community thanks to TSD, one of the top five in the nation. Families move here so their children can attend school, then deaf and hard of hearing adults move businesses here to accommodate the population. Half of the children who attend the Texas School for the Deaf live in the city, and the other half stay in dorms on campus. The school supplies education to over 580 kids from infant to 22.

Incidence of deafness in America is one percent, or about 3 million people. Estimates are much higher when the hard of hearing community is added, though, including hearing loss with age, putting numbers in the tens of millions.

The NWS is also introducing a lightning safety PSA that includes American Sign Language, produced in partnership with Gallaudet University, a private school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. Check out the video here.

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