A free weather app created in the wake of Alabama’s deadly April 2011 tornado outbreak aims to alert users to dangerous weather before it crosses their path. According to developer Steve Turner, the national director of governmental operations for Baron, a weather service company headquartered in Huntsville, Alabama SAF-T-Net is a full-featured weather app unique in its ability to provide user and location-specific alerts to anyone in a storm’s path.
“In the aftermath of that event, Gov. Bentley convened a tornado recovery action council to track and study the response by the state to learn and implement new policies to be better prepared for next big thing, whether it is a hurricane or a tornado, or whatever,” Turner said. “One recommendation was to use in a better fashion the technology to provide more precise alerts on a more narrow, personalized basis, rather than just a broadcast sort of thing.”
Baron, using technology it already possessed for emergency robo-calls, in turn developed the Alabama SAF-T-Net app for smartphones and tablets. Using a hand-held device’s built-in GPS, the SAF-T-Net app can determine if a user is near or nearing tornadoes or severe thunderstorms.
Aside from the user’s current location, the app also allows you to program four customizable locations such as home, work or your children’s schools, where you can receive alerts on those locations as well. The app also has features familiar with most weather apps including current conditions, forecasts, live radar and more.
“We introduced the app last year and have continued to enhance it,” Turner said.
He said in trials, the app has often provided alerts before the National Weather Service.
An EF-1 tornado in Athens, Ala. in April – one that was too small and hard to detect with traditional radar technology – generated a dangerous storm warning on the app and alerted people before it was officially recorded as a tornado by the NWS, Turner said.
In a hurricane situation, he said the app will also display forecast maps including “spaghetti plots” indicating probable storm tracks.
Another feature of Alabama SAF-T-Net is the ability to submit content to a statewide database, where it can be accessed by emergency response agencies for documentation purposes.
“Several regional EMA directors said it was great for after the fact,” Turner said. “For example, FEMA has very specific requirements for relief and needs documented damage. SAF-T-Net allows users to generate photo evidence that can be verified and is location-specific and time stamped.”
Turner believes that information will be especially valuable in smaller counties or more rural areas, where local EMAs may not have access to more resources or manpower.
“By tying citizens and EMA folks together, we think that’s very valuable in helping to serve them, because some smaller counties don’t have much of anything,” he said.
Despite its features, Turner said the app was designed to augment and not replace any other weather app. He said Baron is offering it for free to users in Alabama with hopes the success of the app can be marketed elsewhere, where costs can be underwritten.
For more information, visit your iPhone or Android device’s app store, or visit www.alabamasaftnet.com.
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