In the center of Horned Frog Nation, outdoor emergency sirens ring alongside individualized ringtones that accompany an automated text message regarding extreme weather warnings.
From 1:45 to 2:47 on Tuesday afternoon, the warning system progressively alerted the university community of a tornado warning, suspended classes and then lifted the warning and resumed classes.
This means of communication regarding a potential emergency situation brings to light the benefits that have been introduced with the ubiquitous use of cell phones on the university campus. More specifically, the use of smart phones has created unofficial weathermen and women in many university students through the use of Weather Channel applications and preinstalled programs that give students access to updated weather reports, allowing for a greater vigilance in the event of an emergency.
As defined on the university website, “The TCU ALERT service sends emergency text messages to campus members via cell phones, campuswide emails and messages to home phones. TCU also will utilize the media to inform the community about campus closures or delays.”
The TCU ALERT system was added five months after the devastating Virginia Tech shooting and came into effect in 2007. The system is useful for informing linked persons to urgent information, unlike email announcements regarding somewhat “urgent” information — say, for instance, regarding a parking lot closure. The TCU ALERT service has been used solely to communicate succinctly information about unforeseen campus closures and delays.
The accessibility to current weather conditions and predictions using applications on smart phones allows users to be better informed into planning events and managing their daily lives. Simple examples include knowing how to dress appropriately for the day’s weather or whether an organization ought to have a backup plan when there is an 80 percent chance of rain on the day of a scheduled event.
On Tuesday, I was able to access a real-time radar map showing the severe weather on my smart phone by means of a free application called “The Weather Channel.” Much like the TCU ALERT system, there were several warnings waiting to be read within the program.
Upon entrance to the library during the ALERT hours, a gathering of students stood watching the clips of tornado damage while many stood checking their phones for weather updates and alerts. All throughout the library many students received weather updates on their cell phones and computers.
Junior psychology major Alex Firestone said, “Technology has greatly enhanced my awareness of the weather conditions due to the speedily convenient TCU ALERT system, which notifies students via text and email, and the smartphone capability of delivering weather information at anytime and anyplace.”
Limitations of these programs are signal strength of phone or Internet service and the power charge of a computer or phone. Considering these factors, Christine Ledet, a junior strategic communication major, said, “My smart phone is probably my most checked source of information. If I didn’t have my smartphone, I might not even check the weather at all.”
Now as much as I tend to blame cell phones and other technology for removing many of the interpersonal interactions that used to be required daily, a tornado is a tornado. Timely, automated warnings are as good of a warning as needed, and, in the case of a real danger, could save lives.
While I might not add “weatherwoman” to my job experience on my résumé, advances in technology allow users the freedom to access current information that even hourly news stations can’t beat. In the case of this week’s extreme weather, TCU ALERT and smartphone weather applications have proven their usefulness in promoting awareness among students, resulting in a primed and vigilant community.
Cheraya Arthur is a junior communication studies major from Boerne.