The Meteorological Service of Canada has embarked on the process of adding additional public warning functionality to the Weatheradio network. The major change will be the introduction of Federal Information Processing Standard and Specific Area Messaging Encoding (FIPS/SAME) codes to the Weatheradio broadcast, which will enable users to receive both the audio signal and text warning messages. The goal is to expand the functionally, reach and utility of the MSC Weatheradio network available to Canadians by late 2004.
The MSC Weatheradio network is a broadcast technology that allows the MSC to send forecasts and warning messages to users by the use of a tone alert feature. The network is extensive with 185 locations broadcasting over the VHF-FM frequency band and reaches over 92% of Canadians. A special weather radio receiver is required in order to get the Weatheradio audio signal. These radios are available in electronic stores. Key users of the Weatheradio service are first line emergency responders such as firemen, police and community officials. Other users are those who participate in outdoor activities such as recreational boating, camping, organizations such as school boards and small businesses that focus on outdoor applications such as snowplowing and landscaping.
One important feature of the Weatheradio network is that many receivers are equipped with the capability, while in the standby mode, of sounding a siren or displaying a flashing light when a warning message is received. Through this feature, Weatheradio is a true alert system that does not require the users to constantly monitor the broadcast as the content and timing is totally controlled by the MSC. The trigger to activate this feature is the receiving of a 1050 Hz tone that is broadcast ahead of a warning message.
However, most new Weatheradio receivers now use FIPS/SAME codes as the trigger to activate the alarm features. By broadcasting FIPS/SAME codes, the users who purchase a new Weatheradio will not only be able to receive the audio signal, but will receive emergency messages and full functionality of the warning device unit, such as flashing lights or warning sirens that activate while the receiver is in the standby mode. The MSC will continue to send the 1050 Hz tone in order to assure compatibility with older weather radio receivers.
Thomson (RCA) recently launched a new line of televisions called 'Alert Guard'. These new televisions will incorporate a built in Weatheradio receiver. In addition to receiving the audio Weatheradio signal, the television will have lights on the front panel that will flash when weather warnings or other non-weather emergency messages are issued. The non-audio warning features are only triggered by the FIPS/SAME codes. Other options include crawling of the warning message and a graduated warning siren alarm. All of these functions are activated by the user through the remote control. All features will work while the television is performing other functions such as watching on air programming or playing a DVD, VHS tape or a video game. The warning features are independent of program source such as cable, satellite or antenna. All that is required is being able to receive a Weatheradio transmission site.
The heart of the 'Alert Guard' feature is the use of FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) and SAME (Specific Area Messaging Encoding) code technology. The appropriate number code is electronically assembled and inserted ahead of the normal audio warning message. A listener will hear a brief 'tone type noise'. The tone is decoded by suitably equipped Weatheradio receivers. Most new Weatheradio receivers and the Alert Guard television Weatheradio board now have this technology. When a warning, alert or advisory is issued and the Alert Guard television/Weatheradio is located within the transmitter patterns, all alerting features, such as a warning siren or a flashing light will activate. The MSC Weatheradio network will start using this technology by 2004.
The capability to broadcast FIPS/SAME code on the Weatheradio network in Canada will provide a significant weather service improvement. In addition to severe weather warnings, the Weatheradio network will have the functionality to broadcast a suite of non-weather public warnings. The goal is to work with agencies responsible for non weather emergency warnings to develop an all warning system for Canadians. The broadcasting (text) non-weather alerts provide a unique opportunity to those in the warning preparedness community. The goal is to have this system in place in 2004.