In March 1994, a telephone survey was conducted in west Tennessee to determine the extent to which NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) is used by residents of the region. Interviews were completed with 407 respondents for an error rate of ±4.86%. The data were subjected to tests of proportions, contingency table, and chi-square statistical analysis.
The study revealed that 24.6% of west Tennessee households have NWR receivers, but only a third of those, or 8.1% of regional households, continuously monitor the service. A test alert message was broadcast on NWR just prior to the telephone survey. Based on the number of respondents who acknowledged receiving the message, only 6.4% of west Tennessee households can be expected to actually hear an emergency notification on NWR. Thus, as a general public warning and emergency communication service its effectiveness is limited, particularly among citizens of lower socioeconomic status.
A fundamental problem appears to exist in the way citizens with NWR receivers use the service. Most turn on their receivers only when they already know severe weather is in their area. The research supports the view of NWR as communication technology with a significant, though somewhat limited, direct niche audience. However, it should be recognized that NWR is but one part of the family of warning channels with which the public engages. Perhaps its mast important function is not in direct warning to the public but in conveying warning information to other mass media and emergency responders who incorporate numerous other technologies (commercial radio and television, sirens, public address vehicles) to engage those in harm's way.