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Emergency alert system confusion

BAKERSFIELD, CA - The start of the Way Fire prompted the Emergency Services of Kern County to get some help from the National Weather Service. For the first time, they used the federal Emergency Alert System to let everyone know about evacuations. But, the warning caused some confusion Monday.
/ Source: KGET-TV

BAKERSFIELD, CA - The start of the Way Fire prompted the Emergency Services of Kern County to get some help from the National Weather Service. For the first time, they used the federal Emergency Alert System to let everyone know about evacuations. But, the warning caused some confusion Monday.

The warning notified Kern County of an evacuation over our 5:00 PM broadcast Monday night. The message was vague for many causing panic.

"I did hear that the 911 dispatching services were overwhelmed after the EAS message was released. And that is unfortunate. That certainly not is the intention," said Georgianna Armstrong, Emergency Services Manager for the County of Kern.

Armstrong said they had to move as fast as the Way Fire and get evacuation notices out to those living near it quickly. That meant activating the Ready Kern Program that automatically calls people in the area effected.
For those who hadn't registered with Ready Kern, they called the National Weather Service to send out a hard coded EAS message on T.V. and radio.

"The information usually will say only the county affected. And so you can have part of the county affected 50 or more miles away from where the actual listener or viewer may be," said National Weather Service Meteorologist, Steve Mendenhall.

"The scroll at the top we can not control. We cannot modify. All we can provide to give context is the audio portion of that," said Armstrong.

Those listening to the warning could hear the county provided details of the Way Fire evacuations to determine if they were at risk. But, those not paying attention, with the volume low, or anyone hard of hearing would miss the message since it is also not available in closed caption.

"We are missing an entire segment of our population. I'm hearing through meeting at the state that the gap is being addressed," said Armstrong.

While Armstrong admits the system isn't perfect, she says it provides the information to the people in the county who need it.

"At a point where you're looking at do I get this information out quickly that is potentially life threatening to people or do I look for a more perfect mechanism You work with what you have," said Armstrong.

Armstrong says if you have questions, don't call 911. Call 211 for information, look online, or the best way, sign up for the Ready Kern program. You will only be notified if you are affected. To sign up, visit www.ReadyKern.com.