Middle Tennessee State University has been using technology from AccuWeather to issue tornado-warning alerts since October 2011.
AccuWeather, a private company headquartered in State College, Pa., has a team of meteorologists that provides customized, site-specific weather warnings for universities and businesses across the nation.
It uses the latest in geographic information systems-mapping technology to monitor and pinpoint severe weather patterns 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and hone in on its clients’ specific geographic locations to issue warnings.
“This new service provides more accurate and timely information regarding tornado activity that might affect the general areas of both the campus and Miller Coliseum,” said MTSU Police Chief Buddy Peaster.
“AccuWeather will notify us when the campus appears to be in the path of a tornado that is within 20 minutes of us. Then we will activate our sirens and utilize our Rave notification system via text message, email and voice alert.”
(Watch a brief video of Peaster explaining the AccuWeather project here.)
MTSU has five tornado sirens located on its Murfreesboro campus and one siren at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum on West Thompson Lane. Peaster said the central campus also encompasses MTSU satellite offices in the surrounding community.
“We’ve had six sessions with our ‘building runners,’ and our message to them has been that this new system of tracking tornadoes should cut down on the number of warnings that disrupt classes when people go to their ‘safer places’—especially when tornadic activity is spotted somewhere in the far corners of the county. That should be good news for everyone.”
MTSU has roughly 230 building runners, mostly clerical staffers, who alert people in offices and classrooms to seek designated safer areas in emergencies.
“We also made it very clear—and we need to get this message to all faculty, staff and students—that when a warning is issued, it adds a whole new level of urgency, and we need to take it seriously. If AccuWeather tells us that the campus is in the path of a tornado, we should head to our designated safer places and not just blow it off as a ‘false alarm.’”
In February 2008, one of AccuWeather’s clients, the Caterpillar Inc., manufacturing plant in Oxford, Miss., received a warning and, 22 minutes later, took a direct hit from a tornado. The building collapsed, but because the company’s 80 employees had taken shelter, their injuries amounted only to minor cuts.
AccuWeather provides services to more than 175,000 clients in government, special events, manufacturing, agriculture, media, recreation and other categories. Universities that already use AccuWeather’s services include Vanderbilt, Clemson and Florida State. Companies on board with AccuWeather include SunTrust Bank, truck and engine manufacturer Navistar International Corp. and railway systems such as Union Pacific.
“I can’t emphasize enough that with this new service, we will send out tornado alerts when possibly dangerous activity is more imminent for campus,” Peaster said. “Everyone will need to take the Rave alerts and the sirens more seriously.”
— Tom Tozer (Thomas.Tozer@mtsu.edu)