Situational awareness: Why knowing your location can keep you safe during severe weather

Published: Monday, July 15, 2019 @ 6:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 @ 6:20 AM

Knowing your exact location during a severe storm may sound like common sense. But with many people relying on GPS software to answer that question, many people are losing their sense of situational awareness.

Knowing your exact location during a severe storm may sound like common sense.

But with many people relying on GPS software to answer that question, many people are losing their sense of situational awareness.

>> Vrydaghs: How to be prepared when severe weather strikes

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Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs found out how vital it is for people to have situational awareness with the help of a simple test.

GPS technology has undoubtedly helped when it comes to advanced warning of severe weather.

But has it caused us to lose touch with basic geography?

According to a University of Alabama study, it appears it has. Most people participating could not find the county they lived in on a map. They had no situational awareness.

“Who owns a may anymore? We rely on our GPS,” said Kathy Platoni, psychologist. “We rely on Google Maps, on our cell phones.”

Is that true for you? For most people? Are we making ourselves vulnerable during severe weather?

“We’ve had the ultimate wake-up call in the Dayton area,” said Platoni. “It’s time to pay attention.”

Since flood, severe thunderstorm and tornado watches are issued by the county — not city — knowing where you are on a map is very important to staying alive.

So Vrydaghs hit the streets with a county map to see if people actually knew where there were.

While many people knew what county they were in, they were less sure that could find their county on a map of Ohio.

Vrydaghs asked nine people to pick out their home county on an Ohio map and only two were able to do it.

>> Made a wrong turn? 3 times GPS directions ended badly

Now imagine being out of town and unfamiliar with the area — that’s even more dangerous.

“When you’re on vacation or on a business trip you might not necessarily know what to look for to find a safe place,” said Platoni.

That’s exactly what happened to one Georgia family as they were driving south on I-75 through Dayton on Memorial Day.

They were completely unaware that a catastrophic EF-4 tornado was in their path.

A piece of metal from a nearby building impaled their minivan, barely missing a teen in the backseat.

“I think we pay attention to the wrong things in so many instances,” said Platoni. “What our technology is showing us other than what our environment is teaching us.”

Most people who spoke to Vrydaghs said they use the WHIO Weather app when they’re away from home.

But what about people who don’t have a smartphone with GPS location?

That’s where News Center 7 comes in. With live Doppler 7 Radar, Vrydaghs can pinpoint storms down to the neighborhood and even street.

But people might not always be near a TV, have a smartphone in hand or a radio to listen to. During heavy storms and tornadoes, people might not have power at all.

That’s why having situational awareness and always having access to knowing where you are is important.

That could mean having a simple paper map or taking the time now to learn where your county is in Ohio.

>> Teen girl ‘nearly impaled’ by piece of metal; family of 6 rescued by state patrol

Before heading out to any summer vacation look at a map, know where you’re going, know the name of the county and take the time to determine your safe place should severe weather hit.

Smartphone users with the WHIO Weather app can always set location. You can even get an alert sent directly to your device whether you're on vacation or driving to a different city.