Early last Wednesday morning a severe thunderstorm rolled through Lewisville spawning an EF-1 tornado. Residents who had signed up for the city’s Lewisville Citizen Alert emergency notification system did not receive the telephone notification they should have. The problem was found and fixed this Wednesday.
If things had worked correctly, Lewisville residents should have received a phone call about the severe thunderstorm warning issued at 2:26 a.m. The tornado came through 10-20 minutes later. Residents receiving the thunderstorm warning could have tuned to broadcast news and made their own decision about whether to take cover.
On the Lewisville Texan Journal’s Facebook page, a reader asked us why she didn’t receive an alert on her phone through that system. Good question. We looked back through our messages from Wednesday morning and realized that we did not receive one, even though we are signed up for them. We were awake and monitoring weather at the time, and had gotten alerts from the National Weather Service, but not through the city.
In our Citizen Alert account’s configuration, a system message about quiet periods caught our attention. Quiet periods allow a user to tell the system when they prefer not to get alerts. During a user’s quiet hours, only tornado warnings for our city will be sent. This setting is useful if you want to sleep through all but the most serious alerts.
The message from the system was “Your Quiet Period will now match your organization’s default Quiet Period setting. To set your own Quiet Period, please re-enable this feature.”
The setting was turned off for our account, which indicated that if we did not receive a message, it was because of our organization’s (City of Lewisville) default setting.
We asked Josh Roberts, Lewisville’s emergency manager if he could check the system to see if it had sent out that thunderstorm warning as it should have. We sent him a screenshot of the message that the system showed us about the quiet period.
Roberts jumped on it this morning, calling us back quickly. He logged in and reviewed what the system sent. What he discovered was that an alert was launched at 2:27 a.m. – just one minute after the severe thunderstorm warning was issued.
According to system records, only 9 of the city’s 3,917 residents who have signed up for the system got that notification. To find out why, Roberts put in a support request to Everbridge, the company that operates the system.
Early Wednesday afternoon, he got the answer: It was quiet period settings that kept everyone else from getting that message. Roberts explained that a quiet period setting had been applied to the City of Lewisville that users had been able to override on their own, but unless they chose their own quiet period, they would get the citywide quiet period. The 9 users had set up quiet periods that did not include the 2 a.m. hour.
Roberts said that the vendor frequently updates the system, and speculated that the change might have had something to do with an update.
“Upon review of this feature, and after an analysis of this most recent storm, we will be implementing a minor change to our system. We will no longer have a system-wide quiet time,” wrote Roberts. Roberts said that individuals will still have the ability to set their own quiet periods, but that tornado warnings will always override that and go through at any time of the day.
Roberts stressed again that residents should have multiple ways of getting warnings about severe weather. “No one warning tool works in every situation,” Roberts wrote. “In times of forecasted severe weather, it is imperative to stay ‘weather aware.’”
He also noted that the business of emergency warnings is more complicated than most people realize. “Weather is not an exact science,” Roberts said. “In spite of tremendous improvements throughout the years regarding weather forecasts, operational meteorology during severe weather and the extensive network of an ‘integrated warning team,’ mother nature can still surprise.”
Users who have signed up to receive alerts through the system are urged to log in to their accounts to ensure that their settings suit their needs.