Monday, January 14, 2008

Problems with sirens

James Spann of ABC 33/40 often talks about the problems associated with relying on sirens for severe weather warnings. Last week, sirens went off throughout Jefferson County, the most populated county in Alabama because of a tornado wrning that included a small sliver of the northern part of the county. This resulted in a lot of confusion and contributed to the "cry wolf" issue for many people. Another problem is that sirens were designed toalert people who are outdoors. Many people who need to hear the wrning cannot, especially if they are indoors.

My friend Nathan sent me this link of the audio from Kenosha County Wisconsin 911 last week. "Many phone calls to Kenosha County's 911 line during Monday's storms were only to ask what the sirens were about. There were also a few calls to report accidents caused by the storm."

James mentioned this issue on December 31, 2007. "And, we have to figure out a way for sirens to sound only for areas within the new polygon tornado warning method. The old concept of sounding sirens across an entire county for a tornado that is one-quarter of a mile wide simply isn’t needed with today’s radar and spotting technology. Of course, we tell folks not to rely on sirens anyway. Outdoor warning sirens are not the primary answer; we simply need a digital NOAA Weather Radio receiver in every Alabama home and business. I believe the “siren mentality” (the idea that you should hear a tornado siren before every tornado) will kill many people in Alabama. So, for those that do have the “siren mentality”, we must reduce the siren FAR."

Bill Murray of mentioned this on June 17, 2007 in a post titled "No Siren in Siren." He said, "An important lesson from the Siren storm: sirens should not be depended upon for receiving warnings. Everyone should determine what is the best source of weather information for them to monitor during potential severe weather: NOAA WeatherRadio, Commercial radio or television, etc."

On July 11, 2007, Jason Simpson wrote about malfunctioning sirens in Calhoun County. "Within the last few minutes, the tornado sirens in Calhoun County started sounding. ABC 33/40 news has checked with Calhoun County officials and confirmed that this is a computer problem."


nathan said...

From what I have heard, perhaps different municipalities have different rules regarding the triggering of sirens. The community I grew up outside of would only turn on their sirens if a tornado had been sighted within a 20 mile radius of the city. Maybe there needs to be a comprehensive and reasonable plan installed across the country, something need to be done to help avoid more confusion.

And I remember the Siren, WI tornado (18 June 2001) very clearly... the parent storm eventually moved near my house (at the time) but in a weakened state. Siren's police chief was credited with saving the lives of many people in the town that evening, though there were 3 deaths attributed to the tornado. However, at that time, Siren was very far from a NWS Radio Transmitter - the only alternative warning would have been radio or television. Since 2001, money was made available to install a transmitter to cover this region of northwest Wisconsin. Even in 2008, there are still areas that can not receive reliable NOAA Weather Radio coverage.

Sharp said...

This is a legitimate issue that needs plenty of discussion at the governmental levels and real solutions. But it is also incumbent upon citizens to educate themselves. If there are people who wait until an actual siren has gone off to pay attention to the current weather status, they are taking a great risk.

Sufficient coverage is given in the media nowadays that a fair majority of the time I know before a day even begins if there is the possibility of tornadic activity that day. Even without sirens or NOAA radio, TV stations in the Huntsville are are so obsessive about going to wall-to-wall coverage when a few severe thunderstorms pop up that its impossible to miss fair warning when things are brewing in Mississippi! An occasional glance at a TV or two throughout the day should let you know when things are headed your way. If you can't deduce that a storm in an adjacent county may be potential cause for concern, you need your head examined.

There are occasional misses and one may drop down rather unanticipated. (Boy, does my wife get angry about those.) But by and large, it actually takes effort or willful ignorance to miss severe weather in general. And with the street -level radars employued these days (where they can say a cell is at 320 Sycamore and about to make a left on Main Street) it's hard to imagine getting anxious about a county-wide warning when a few seconds review of the television clearly shows it's in a neighborhood 10 miles away.

Mike Wilhelm said...

You both have some excellent points. You know, part of the problem is good old personal responsibility. At some point, people have to care enough for their own safety to keep an eye on things.