ATTENTION! Again this week, America learns the lesson of preparedness. Communities across the southeast were unprepared for the major winter storm, which hammered them with snow and ice. The result was schoolchildren forced to sleep in their classrooms because school buses couldn't navigate the roads; commuters stuck for hours on gridlocked roads; vital services delayed in their delivery.
We learn at moments like this that weather information is about more than looking outside to see if it is raining, or glancing at your smartphone to check the temperature. It is about preparing for the future based on scientific assessments of probable events. The value of such information was drilled into me over three decades in the U.S. military, my leadership of Joint Task Force Katrina, which lead the recovery effort in the Gulf, and more recently in my work as a preparedness consultant, speaker and author .
People that can't access reliable, real-time, localized weather information simply cannot be prepared. Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation for 20 million families since DIRECTV dropped The Weather Channel.
DIRECTV is now providing its customers a new 24-hour weather service. But with respect to that provider, I believe it lacks critical functionality and does not ensure preparedness in the face of weather emergencies.
To be clear, I have no stake in either DIRECTV or The Weather Channel and no opinion about their contract negotiations. That's for the business people to address. But I do know that this issue has big ramifications. DIRECTV serves not only residential customers, but also many military bases, first responder offices and industry operations centers. They also serve truckers, farmers, business travelers and pilots, and millions who live in areas where weather is predictably unpredictable.
The service DIRECTV now offers is lacking in fundamental ways. Having watched it closely, I have some real concerns. First, the new service isn't live, but rather runs on a two or three hour tape-loop. That's a real problem. Mother nature doesn't move in two-hour increments. She changes constantly. When information is labeled "Satellite and Radar Earlier" it is too late to be prepared. Public trust is eroded when the person on the television is saying "a watch could be issued," and the watch already has been issued. The closed captioning is unreadable, which is unfair to millions of people who are hard of hearing or deaf. Additionally, the new service from DIRECTV primarily delivers information at the regional level, rather than in-depth localized information. They had little coverage, an no depth, of the ice and snow storms in the Southeast. By comparison, The Weather Channel has the capacity to provide constant local weather on the 8's and hyper-local information about the watches and warnings the National Weather Service provides.
The bottom line is that DIRECTV's new service is not precise and that's not acceptable. I am aware of at least one military base that was forced to ask The Weather Channel to pipe in a direct feed of its service. That sort of work-around shouldn't be necessary.
The two sides need to get back to the negotiating table. Both sides have a responsibility to fix this because the current solution doesn't work.
This needs urgent attention. The next great weather catastrophe is inevitable. Whether it's in the fire-prone West, the Gulf coast, tornado alley, or the frozen North, another event will happen that endangers lives and threatens communities. We need to See First. Understand First. Act First. We can't be first with a sub-standard service.
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