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Weather radios to protect Escambia

By By Bill Crist Special to the Advance
There's nothing like free handouts to attract a crowd, and organizers had to be pleased with turnout at Tuesday's safety day in Brewton.
The event was organized mainly to officially unveil Brewton's new weather radio transmitter, but the East Escambia Chapter of the American Red Cross, AllKids and RSVP, as well as the Brewton Fire Department and Escambia County Sheriff's Department were all on hand with health and safety related items for those in attendance.
The stars of the show, though, were the weather alert radios that will now broadcast severe weather alerts to nearly all of Escambia County.
According to Escambia County Sheriff Grover Smith, the county has been served by four different towers in the past.
"It's not often that you get to do something you know is really going to save lives," Brewton Mayor Ted Jennings said.
"When we set up a program two years ago, we wanted to reach out not only to
the people who live in the city limits, but almost all of Escambia County."
Jennings said that Smith had worked tirelessly on the transmitter in his role as chairman of Project Impact.
Jennings also made a special presentation to Danny D'Andrea for his role in helping secure the transmitter's spot on the Alabama Power tower located just off Baggett Circle.
"Nobody made this happen any more than Danny," Jennings said.
"If it hadn't been for Danny, we probably wouldn't be here today," said Smith.
Alabama Power provided the space on its tower, as well as a backup generator and building, all of which saved Project Impact from incurring any expenses related to the transmitter.
Smith said that the company could probably rent a similar space on the tower to a commercial customer for $500-$700 per month.
The first weather alert radio was officially donated at the meeting, with Jennings presenting a radio to Dr. Baxter Baker, assistant superintendent at the Brewton City School board.
The radio was one of 10 that the Brewton Kiwanis Club donated to Project Impact.
Other groups that took part in donating a portion of the $3,000 raised were the Brewton Rotary Club, Atmore Rotary Club, Bank of Brewton, First National Bank Charitable Trust, Alabama Power and Wal-Mart.
"We do appreciate the Kiwanis Club and other organizations who made donations," Baker said. "This is really something that's going to make this a safer place."
According to Gary Beeler with the National Weather Service (NSW), there are two types of weather radios. The first is a basic model that will alert listeners of a severe weather situation within a pre-determined broadcast zone, although in this area, it may not necessarily be an alert for our area. These radios tend to be less expensive, Beeler said.
The other type of radio is called a SAME radio, specific area message encoding. This type of radio will broadcast alerts for the county you program into it. For our area, that would include just alerts issued from the Brewton tower that apply to Escambia County, Ala.
The weather reports are actually broadcast continuously, with current weather conditions updated regularly. During emergencies, routine broadcasts are interrupted for warnings, watches and other critical information.
Brewton-area residents will soon be able to purchase the weather radios at the Brewton Radio Shack store. According to Smith, Project Impact has beenworking with local retailers, and that Radio Shack was working to offer discounted prices on the radios.
Beeler said that consumers should make sure the radio has a battery backup.
Randy McKee, with the NWS, said that the Service was very pleased to have the additional tower located here and that the National Weather Service would do what it could to make sure it was an effective service.
"We will try out best to give you the service you need," McKee said.
Project Impact was able to secure the transmitter with a grant through the Department of Agriculture.
"There was no out-of-pocket expense for the city," Smith said.
The National Weather Service Mobile/Pensacola Forecast Office is responsible for issuing selected statements, watches and warnings for Escambia, Conecuh and Monroe counties. The signal from the Brewton tower will cover a good deal of all three counties, including the larger cities of Evergreen and Monroeville as well as Century, Fla.