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Emergency alerts, snow removal bills considered by state lawmakers

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers spent time Tuesday justifying new mandates for the state’s emergency alert system.

While many ways for delivering emergency alerts exist, none is as wide-reaching as the Wireless Emergency Alert system, a federal program that can provide geographically targeted alerts to cell phones.

State Rep. Larry Lambert introduced a bill making the use of that system mandatory in the event of a catastrophic release, such as the November 2018 leak of Ethylene Oxide from the Atlas CRODA Plant in New Castle.

Lambert says that leak is what prompted the drafting of this bill in the first place.

At the bill’s committee hearing, UD Instructor and Environmental Activist Jeffrey Richardson notes the dangers the state faces by not utilizing this system.

“I hope that we can also think about the liability of not notifying the public that we have right now,” Richardson says. “We just had a person who stated they didn’t know we had the current system in existence; which means many people are not being notified when there are emergencies at this point in time. That, to me, represents a huge liability.”

Lambert says one statewide system run by the Delaware Emergency Management Agency, the Delaware Emergency Notification System, requires users to opt-in to get the alerts — and despite years of outreach, only 3 percent of Delawareans have signed up.

In contrast, the WEA system targets all phones in a specified area, and most phones are opted in to receive alerts by default.

The bill faced some objections from DEMA. Spokesperson Jeff Sands says DEMA already uses the WEA system for many emergency events, but requiring the use of it would put undue burden on emergency services personnel, who may need to take time away from dealing with the situation to set up the alerts.

The bill cleared the committee unanimously, but some objections from DEMA signaled some further tweaking before a vote on the House floor.

House lawmakers are also considering a bill requiring the removal of snow and ice from cars before driving.

State Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha says he learned the importance of clearing off his car while stationed in Alaska during his time in the Army.

“But when you get on the road you seen the difference, the difference that it makes in terms of really the safety of the driving environment for everyone,” says Chukwuocha. “And it became such a necessity that I don’t care if it’s a little bit of snow, I’ll get it all off today because I realize the safety.”

In a committee meeting Tuesday, some lawmakers were concerned that seniors or those with disabilities could face penalties when they may not be able to clear off their car themselves.

The house sponsor Ed Osienski says the law would be enforced by police, and like neighboring states New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there’s room for flexibility; an officer could instead help out the driver, or point them to someone who can.

Lawmakers have tried to pass this bill since 2014, but it’s never gotten a vote on the House floor. It received near unanimous support in the State Senate last week.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.