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National Warning System (NAWAS)

The National Warning System (NAWAS) is a communications system originally designed and implemented in the 1950's as a means of notifying and preparing for a nuclear attack. Fortunately the system was never used for its intended purpose, but has proven invaluable to local emergency managers responding to or coping with natural disasters.

The National Warning System supports the nonmilitary actions taken by Federal agencies, by the private sector, and by individual citizens to meet essential human needs; to support the military effort; to ensure continuity of Federal authority at national and regional levels; and to ensure survival as a free and independent nation under all emergency conditions, including a national emergency caused by threatened or actual attack on the United States.

The National Warning System has major terminals at each State EOC and State Emergency Management Facility. Today, the system consists of what is effectively a 2200+ telephone party line. Obviously, it is more than a normal telephone system. The phone instruments are designed to provide protection for lightening strikes so they may be used during storms. The interconnecting lines are provided some protection and avoid local telephone switches. This ensures they are available even when the local system is down or overloaded.

The system is used by local officials thousands of times a year for emergency management coordination and response. One typical scenario is the use of the system during tornadoes. As storms are sighted, emergency managers in one town or county can communicate with their colleagues in other counties who are in the path of the storm, advising them as to direction, speed, and intensity. The drawback to this system is it relies on human intervention. If there is no one there to receive the communications the warning is not disseminated. This has resulted in missed tornado warnings. Today modernization and automation are planned in most telecommunications systems.

Both the National Warning Center (NWC) and the Alternate National Warning Center (ANWC) at Olney, MD, are staffed 24 hours per day and serve as the primary control for the National Warning System (NAWAS).

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