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iMap Weather Radio Nails the Where, Flubs the When

By Patrick Nelson
Nov 16, 2012 5:00 AM PT

iMap Weather Radio Nails the Where, Flubs the When

iMap Weather Radio, an app from Weather Decision Technologies, is available for US$9.99 at Google Play. iMap Weather Radio

iMap Weather Radio from Weather Decision Technologies may be the first Android app- style weather-warning push product that accurately parses public safety announcements. It delivers timely alerts only to those within a geo warning box, rather than to everyone within a broad-brush area.

I've been looking for a suitable alternative to the public weather warnings-to-email that California's Office of Emergency Services used to supply. Due to the vagaries of local government, they're no longer available.

I need it because I use the fire weather warning product in my volunteer Duty Officer role connected with the Non-Government Emergency Operations Center near my home -- I've written about that before.

Here's where the problem is:

If you've ever had any involvement in government, you'll know that a stumbling block is the fiefdom-like nature of it all. Each agency has its own priorities.

Crackpot System

One of the issues I've encountered in this weather alert case is that the National Weather Service, the supplier of the forecast warning, has historically used counties and geographic zones. Zone CAZ046 and Zone CAZ246 refer to the Santa Monica Mountains, for example. State government agencies and others -- the suppliers of the alert mechanism -- use target areas, ZIP codes and cryptic interpretations of place.

You can't expect users to define their geo-alert using a weather service zone like CAZ046 -- sometimes called CAZ246 -- because they don't know it. Both civilians and pro users want to enter locations by city name or ZIP code.

This is all completely logical. Why wouldn't the forecaster choose his forecast region-based topography -- in this case, a mountain range? Why wouldn't a consumer-oriented alert supplier choose the ZIP code?

This absurd system means that you can be alerted to -- and indeed awakened by -- warnings that don't exactly target you geographically. Indexing is all over the place. No one has gotten it right -- that is, until recently.

Newer geographical GIS shape files are what make the improvements possible.

iMap Weather Radio

iMap Weather Radio from Weather Decision Technologies, at an expensive $9.99 in the Play store, appears to solve some of these problems. It supplies fast, geo-accurate alerts. It uses the GIS shape files rather than counties. I've written about this GIS concept before.

On testing, it successfully delivered only the warnings appropriate to my immediate location -- which is what I wanted.

Extra Features

It also supplied a voice audio alert feed that functions like an all-hazards VHF weather radio, which is useful, as you don't have to reach over and peer at your phone to find out what's up.

Other features include "Follow Me," which triggers the app to provide warnings when you're out of your set locations.

Battery management seemed fair. I didn't notice the excessive battery use that can occur with following or polling-type apps. A weather map is included.

iMap's Weather Radio Pro is superb if you need to get instant geo-accurate warnings and can handle the associated middle-of-the-night wake-ups -- you can't silence the app without switching off all phone notifications.

In Conclusion

The ability to set quiet times is a bizarre feature omission. Even in a pro environment dealing with life-threatening weather emergencies, users will likely be working shifts and will not require warnings at certain times. Absurd.

Weather Decision Technologies, you've solved the geo-accuracy issues -- well done.

However, turning all notifications off, including potentially important SMS text messaging, just to quiet your app at night isn't going to cut it for me. We're not all in Tornado Alley, as you seem to think. It's your turn to wake up now -- you've got a bit more work to do here.

Patrick Nelson has been a professional writer since 1992. He was editor and publisher of the music industry trade publication Producer Report and has written for a number of technology blogs. Nelson studied design at Hornsey Art School and wrote the cult-classic novel Sprawlism. His introduction to technology was as a nomadic talent scout in the eighties, where regular scrabbling around under hotel room beds was necessary to connect modems with alligator clips to hotel telephone wiring to get a fax out. He tasted down and dirty technology, and never looked back.

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