Countless Lives Spared From Tornadoes By Text Messages

Posted at 8:57 PM, Nov 20, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-20 20:57:42-05

(FOX 17) — When you look at Sunday’s devastation from Washington, Illinois, it is hard to imagine more people weren’t killed in the strong tornado that struck.  However, what saved many lives is something most of us have– a cell phone.

At a church service with several hundred people in Washington, several members of the congregation received text alerts of the tornado warning. Pastor Daniel Bennett ushered everyone to a safe place until the damage passed. There were no injuries or deaths.

This technology is called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and is available on most phones. I spoke with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, and this technology has been in place since last fall. Text alerts were activated locally for the tornado warning that was issued for Muskegon and Newaygo Counties on Sunday night.

One benefit of WEA technology is that only cell phones in the warned area are sent a text message.  As an example, suppose there is a tornado in Kent City moving toward the northeast. People in Grand Rapids would likely not receive a text message, since the storm is moving away from the city.  However, people in Cedar Springs and Howard City would.

For more information on the Wireless Emergency Alerts program, click HERE.

The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids contributed to this report.