Saving lives by ensuring people are aware of threatening weather and other non-weather hazards is the goal of federal legislation making its way through Congress.
The NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) Modernization Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-OK5). The act passed the House Wednesday with overwhelming bipartisan support.
“It came to our attention that the NOAA Weather Radio system hasn’t been updated in 30 years,” Rep. Bice said in an interview Wednesday, noting that communications technology has evolved significantly in that time. “But the weather service hasn’t been able to keep up because [it’s] technology is outdated.”
The legislation, if approved in the Senate and signed by the president, would provide $60 million to NOAA for system maintenance and upgrades. The system is used not just for issuing severe weather alerts, but also Amber and Silver Alerts.
“Most Oklahomans have grown up listening to these announcements,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK3) during floor debate Tuesday. “And we know to act when we hear them — that saves lives.”
But Lucas lamented there have been few improvements to the system, other than expanding its overall reach, since it was designated as the government’s sole provider of direct warnings to private homes in 1975.
“The [system's] aging infrastructure has led to increased maintenance costs and more frequent outages. The copper wiring that connects broadcast transmitters to weather service stations has become obsolete and expensive,” Lucas said. “The NWR Modernization Act addresses these challenges and gives NOAA the authority and resources to ensure that the NWR is as useful in the 21st Century as it has been for the past four decades.”
Rep. Bice said the value of the system has been demonstrated over and over, most recently during severe weather outbreaks in Oklahoma, Iowa and Colorado.
"It saves lives, bottom line, when you’re able to alert individuals to flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes or other emergency situations as well as Amber Alerts or Silver Alerts,” Rep. Bice said. “These are important things that can save lives, so that’s why it’s important that we look to upgrade the system."
"We pass lots of pieces of legislation in this body every session," Rep. Lucas said in wrapping up his floor speech. “But every so often, we address a piece of legislation that makes a real difference in the lives of people, a piece of legislation that deserves to move as swiftly as possible through the process."
Sources said the bill is being held “at the desk” in the Senate, meaning it may avoid the need for committee approval and instead gain passage through unanimous consent.