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US schools to receive hazard warning radios

WASHINGTON -- When the squeal from an automated warning radio brought news a severe storm was approaching, school principal William Tomic acted quickly. He alerted teachers to bring children indoors, to a secure interior hallway.

Minutes later, winds that reached an estimated 70 miles per hour ripped the roof off the kindergarten wing of the Charles F. Johnson Elementary School in Endicott, N.Y.

No one was hurt, thanks to the warning and the timely response to it.

``It really did work very well; we were so pleased with it," Tomic said. ``The parents were, as well."

Hoping for more such success stories, the government planned to announce today that it will supply hazard warning radios to all 97,000 public schools in the United States.

The National Weather Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, operates more than 950 short-range radio stations. It has encouraged schools, businesses, and homeowners to buy warning radios that are activated with a broadcast signal that automatically turns a radio on and announces a potential hazard.

The Department of Homeland Security now has decided to provide $5 million to make sure these radios are in every public school, NOAA administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said.

Originally conceived as a means to deliver weather warnings, the system now covers all hazards, such as terrorism, abducted children, and derailed trains carrying toxic materials.

Of course, it takes more than just having the warning radio. School authorities have to know what to do when an alarm sounds.

Tomic said his school has two weather drills a year. Each classroom has a kit that the teachers bring along to the shelter area to keep the children occupied with games, stories, songs, and other activities.

NOAA says more than 10,000 major thunderstorms, 2,500 floods, and 1,000 tornadoes hit the United States annually, and that hurricanes threaten the Gulf and East coasts.

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