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Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release March 31, 1994


Yesterday I saw firsthand the devastation in Cherokee County, Alabama, that resulted from violent storms and tornadoes that swept through the region this past weekend. Federal Emergency Management Director James Lee Witt, Department of Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and I visited with the victims and surveyed the damage. It was an incredibly emotional experience.

We visited the Goshen United Methodist Church and met with the Rev. Kelly Clem and her husband, the Rev. Dale Clem. They lost 20 members of their congregation when the church was demolished. Their 4 year-old daughter, Hannah, was among the dead.

The grace the Clems have shown is an inspiration to all of us. They are experiencing a terrible loss, yet their strength of conviction helps them continue to lead their congregation and give to others in need.

Many others across Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas also died or are critically wounded because of the storms and tornadoes. And while we can't prevent the natural disasters that continually threaten communities and lives and cost billions of dollars in damage, we can reduce their impact.

That's why today I join Secretary Espy and Director Witt in announcing a new Administration initiative that will provide access to warnings of potential disasters -- early warnings for everyone, everywhere in the nation.

This new system is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio. It's battery powered. It's inexpensive. It's simple to operate, yet it automatically sounds an alarm whenever the National Weather Service issues a warning. You can still set it to listen to routine weather information, or it can remain silent, standing by to provide the automatic warning when it's given. There's simply no reason why there can't be one in every home, business and school or hospital, allowing people to protect themselves and their families. This is our goal.

We intend to increase the coverage of the warning system to reach 95 percent of the nation. We will aggressively pursue public and private participation in the placement of the NOAA radios where people gather and ultimately in homes, so that they will soon be as common as smoke detectors.

In addition, I'm pleased today to announce that FEMA and the National Weather Service have jointly developed a new application for the radios. In addition to severe weather warnings, they will be used to provide warnings for other types of disasters, such as hazardous material accidents. In addition, they will be able to provide emergency information to victims of disaster, such as where to get food and shelter, medical services and the location of disaster application centers.

The initiative announced today will significantly improve severe weather forecasting, particularly in rural areas. It will help warn communities about hazardous weather so that they can protect themselves and their loved ones. It will help save lives, such as the ones so tragically lost on Sunday.