Fox News Weather Center

Efforts to Improve Weather Warnings for 36 Million Americans Who Suffer Hearing Loss

Efforts continue to make weather warnings more accessible to those who are deaf or have partial hearing loss.

NOAA weather radios provide a variety of weather warnings and civil emergency messages for a specific area of a National Weather Service forecast office.

Such radios have been available since 1999 with adaptations for people with hearing loss, according to research published on "A Hole in the Weather Warning System" in the February 2003 Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. They have strobe lights and bed-shaker attachments to help with the alerts.

About 17 percent of Americans, or 36 million people, experience some degree of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

The NWS office in Nashville, the Metro Office of Emergency Management and the Nashville Chapter of the American Red Cross will host a symposium Saturday where deaf and partial-hearing loss households will receive a free NOAA weather radio with a strobe light and bed shaker/pillow vibrator attachments.

A pilot project also continues between the federal government and NPR to explore an emergency communications system for those with hearing loss, located in the Gulf Coast and connected to the Public Radio Satellite System.

"The U.S. Gulf Coast, where sudden and sometimes life-threatening weather systems are prevalent, serves as an excellent testing ground for this project due to the urgent need for all residents to have access to real-time emergency information and alerts," NPR spokesman Emerson Brown said.

Twenty-five public radio stations in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas will send alerts, as needed, to about 500 volunteers, who will judge the effectiveness of the program, Brown said.

Each participating station will receive a satellite receiver and hardware to receive and distribute the emergency transmissions. Volunteers will receive a special FM receiver and a 7-inch Android computer that will receive and display the messages.

The transmissions are scheduled to take place for about three weeks in December. All stations and volunteers will keep the equipment after the pilot project is complete.

A final report on the project is expected in January 2014 to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Success will be defined by the ability to receive, transmit, interpret and act upon the messages, Brown said.

It will also be successful that a system is developed for all people to rely on battery-powered radios or other devices in emergencies when electricity, the Internet or other communication means are unavailable.