The familiar and frightening beeeep, beeeep, beeeep sounded, meaning, I assumed, that the National Weather Service was again interrupting the football game on TV to warn me about extreme weather in some other part of the state. Don’t get me wrong. I like other parts of the state. I like people in other parts of the state to be safe. But I also like to watch the last two minutes of the game.
But it wasn’t the TV. The TV wasn’t on. It was — and I’m sure you’re ahead of me here — my cell phone, which was lodged between the couch and the wall, and the noise sounded like the heralding of the apocalypse, which it was.
My cell phone was warning me about the 100 year storm raining grief from the sky. My cell phone, on which I use maybe 5 percent of the available technology, had — from nowhere — taken the time out of its busy cell-phone life to make sure I was OK.
Like many of you, I worry about the NSA and its buddies using cell phone technology to track my calls and track my movements and track, for all I know, stuff I hadn’t even decided to do yet. But this is different. It’s the new world. Sirens have given way to mobiles. The 1950s duck-and-cover school day drills — when you hid under your desk to protect you from nuclear fallout — have given way to a text from FEMA telling you to stay far away from Boulder Creek.
The Emergency Broadcast System — which sounds so reassuring — was created during the Kennedy Administration so we could hear from the president in case Khrushchev dropped more than his shoe on us. But eventually the Cold War ended, and it became mostly a weather-alert service, one that has saved lives, including many in Oklahoma when the 100-year tornadoes swept through.
FEMA and the FCC have worked together on the system, which automatically works on your cell phone if it’s one of the updated, fancy-schmancier kind that everyone has by now. They apparently work even if you’ve silenced the phone. You can opt out of the system, but you don’t opt in. It’s just there, waiting for the moment to beeeep, beeeep, beeeep.
And I’m thinking that maybe just this once, the fact that they — whoever they are — always know where we are could be a good thing. Come hell or high water.