National Weather Service working with deaf community to improve emergency weather alerts

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — When severe weather strikes, the sirens sound, emergency alerts go out and news stations warn viewers, but what if you can’t hear or see what’s going on?

Seconds matter when severe weather moves in, but for the deaf and blind communities, it’s not always easy to know what’s going on and how to get to safety.

David Coco, who is deaf, knows just how important those warnings can be. A few years ago he got caught in a storm in an area with no cell reception.

“We kept trying all these routes and kept getting blocked because of the flooding,” Coco said, who had to guess which direction to go as floodwaters started to rise around him.

“We needed a way to see what roads were closed right now and which ways were safest for us.”

Trevor Boucher, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, said they are trying to modify alerts to be more inclusive.

“Almost all of the alarms are auditory reliant, they require your hearing to use them it has only been until recently that you have had options,” Boucher said.

Boucher says seconds matter when there is danger, and that’s why his team is working with the deaf community to improve the warning system.

“The only way to really be prepared for weather is knowing it is coming,” Boucher said.

Specialized alarms that vibrate and flash can be used along with weather alert apps, but with more moving to mobile devices, Coco says there are more options available for the deaf community, but he hopes to see even more tools developed in the future.

“Before we relied on TV, always TV and now it has moved to our mobile devices,” Coco said.

Coco says there are still challenges even with the recent advancements in how people receive weather alerts.

“Sometimes we don’t sleep with a telephone, we put it across the room or across the house, so we can’t depend on that,” Coco said.

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has a plan in place for their students and staff as well. The school makes sure everyone knows where to go during severe weather.

“We use our phone system, we use our PA system to make sure our students know when severe weather is coming,” said Alex Arguello with TSBVI.

Boucher says listening to those communities is essential to improve the system, and that’s why they are in continued dialogue to improve the alert system even further.

“Now that we are listening we are figuring out how we can actually do that,” Boucher said.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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