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Fort Worth offers weather alerts tailored for blind, deaf

Fort Worth offers weather alerts tailored for blind, deaf

October 30, 2013

FORT WORTH — When severe weather hits, Shelly Ondich turns to her computer for weather alerts being issued by the City of Fort Worth.

She’s paying attention to every word.

“I like the details,” said Ondich. “I like that it's timely accessed information. I'm getting at the same time my neighbors are getting it."

She’s getting messages that help her and husband prepare and protect their family.
Both are blind.

“If it's something severe, honestly I have never been in a tornado,” said Ondich. “They say it sounds like a train. Well, we live by a train track.”

The city rolled out the program known as the Accessible Hazard Alert System (AHAS) in February in partnership with Deaf Link, which is based in San Antonio.  It provides the notification service to hearing and visually impaired residents messages before, during and after an emergency or a disaster.

The text and video alerts can be accessed through computers, cell phones, tablets, and wireless Braille readers.

“If you're deaf, you can't hear those warning sirens sounding," said Randy Westerman of Fort Worth Emergency Management. “We send out an electronic message.”

For those who are blind, the messages are reformatted.

“They won't be able to see the 'crawls' that other people see on the bottom of the TV screen, so we send it in a format that they can use," Westerman explained. "We have about 200 people here in Fort Worth who have signed up."

Fort Worth is the only city in Texas to partner with Deaf Link to provide these alerts. The service was once offered by the State of Texas, but was canceled in January 2011.

As for Shelly Ondich, she hopes other cities follow Fort Worth's lead, because this program can help save lives.

“Timeliness is of the absolute essence,” she said. “Equal access to information for all.”

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