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Storm alert causes countywide confusion

Floods and FloodingVerizon WirelessFEMA

SAN DIEGO -- Cathy Podraza was taken by surprise Monday afternoon when a severe storm alert popped up on her cell phone when there were sunny skies overhead.

"It was like a car alarm, really loud," said Podraza. "It said 'severe alert, flash flood warning... this area till 4:45 p.m,' but then I looked up and it was clear skies."

Podraza wasn't the only one left confused.  The alert was actually meant for several communities in eastern San Diego County, but instead it buzzed the entire region.

"It probably happened 3 or 4 times even though I had turned it off," said Podraza. "It was very confusing, especially when it was telling us to you know check your weather station immediately."

"There's this new WEA system," said National Weather Service meteorologist Jimmy Taegar, the agency that sent out the warning Monday.  "This is the first time there were actually warnings inside SD County."

The warnings are part of Commercial Mobile Alert System (C-MAS), a system launched in April and is a joint service between FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission, and commercial wireless carriers.  It enables government agencies to use cell towers to send out targeted emergency messages.

"If you have a severe thunderstorm, tornado warning, or flash flood warning, you should be notified," said Taegar.

Those notifications are sent to those in affected areas, a warning to take cover or get to safety, however, for those on the Verizon Wireless system, the alert Monday went to all users in the county.

"The way the system works now is county based, so even though people weren't near the flash flood area others that were near the area received the warning," said Taegar.

The NWS the system still has a few issues that need to be worked out.

"There still needs to be some work done before the system can pinpoint latitude and longitude according to where the warnings originate," said Taegar.

Fox 5 contacted Verizon Wireless, company representatives told us the wireless carrier complied with the FCC's requests regarding the C-MAS system.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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