In choosing a NOAA Weather Radio, there are three specific features you should always look for, no matter which make or model you may have in mind. This is important because not all receivers that bill themselves as "weather radios" have them (as I learned from personal experience!),
The first of these is battery backup. It is not uncommon for the regular electric power to go offline for hours or even days in the wake of a severe weather outbreak. Some weather radios may have a hand-cranked dynamo built in which can keep the radio on and running for up to an hour after using the crank for as little as 30 seconds (60 is the more usual length of time). Even so, having batteries in the unit, and keeping some extra batteries on hand, is a wise precaution. Be sure to rotate whatever batteries you have at least every six months to insure maximum power output and the longest possible battery life.
Next is a feature known as ToneAlert. Whenever the National Weather Service issues a special statement of any kind, and especially if a severe weather watch or warning is issued, they will transmit a specially coded signal which will automatically cause the radio speaker to give off a loud, piercing alarm signal, usually of an "up-and-down" nature. The code will also cause the radio to turn itself on and remain on until the user turns the set off manually. This helps to insure that the user has enough time to hear the message and respond to it in an appropriate manner.
Last, but by no means least, is a feature known as "SAME," which stands for "Specific Area Message Encoding." Whenever a local Weather Service office broadcasts a ToneAlert signal, it also transmits a series of special codes to designate the geographic area or areas that the message is intended for. On weather radios equipped with this feature, the receiver will play ONLY the messages encoded for the area they are set for, and will reject all others. This helps to avoid confusion due to conflicting messages, thus giving the listener a clearer idea of what hazards they may be facing, and what action or actions they need to take in a given situation.
Whatever make or model of NOAA Weather Radio you choose, the instructions included with the radio should explain how to set the receiver for the proper codes for your area. Some radios may do this automatically (handheld models, for instance), while others may require the setting a a few dials. In any case, the radio's manufacturer should have a customer service telephone number or a website to assist the purchaser if he or she needs help.
For outdoor activities especially, having a handheld portable NOAA Weather Radio receiver is one of the most important safety measures you can take, especially where children are involved. In any such activity, someone should be designated to monitor the radio, and sound a warning if an alert of any sort is issued.
The next posting in this series will go into the basics of severe weather safety in the home.