Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tornado Sirens

Before I get into the tornado siren issue which needs to be addressed by government leaders, I want to talk a little bit about Nashville, the home of the Scrappers.  Nashville is a very special place for many at Channel 7.  In the days between Anne Pressly's attack and her death, she was supposed to host the Daybreak Pep Rally in Nashville on a Friday morning.  I was asked to go in her place.  When I arrived, the stands were completely filled by 6AM and everyone was wearing a pink ribbon for Anne.  It was an overwhelming show of support and it's something I'll never forget.


Now onto an issue that must be talked about sooner than later, tornado sirens.  In my opinion, it's really sad this outdated method of warning people continues in its present form.  Do we keep them or modify them?  I remember debating this with meteorologist John Robinson.  I wanted to get rid of them and John strongly felt we need to keep them.  I think people rely too heavily on sirens for their primary source for tornado warnings.  They are only intended to warn people outdoors and as I explain below, the method of sounding the sirens is inconsistent throughout the state and needs major modifications.

The policy to sound the sirens is different for almost every county in Arkansas.  If you click on the tab on the top, "Tornado Policy Update", you will see the county policy as of a few years ago.  Some may have changed since I last asked Emergency Managers to send me their procedure.  If any Emergency Manager around the state is reading this, PLEASE let me know your policy. If your county is not listed, they didn't respond to my email.  Remember, I sent this several years ago.

This is not intended to criticize, but I feel those in control of sounding the sirens do not have adequate training in meteorology.  For example, there have been several instances the sirens have sounded in Saline county during a thunderstorm and NO tornado warning is in effect.  Just a few weeks ago, I was on the air covering tornado warnings over Conway and Van Buren counties and tornado sirens were going off in Vilonia.  They were not even close to the path of the possible tornado.  There have also been instances the sirens go off in west Little Rock when the tornado is east of the Little Rock airport and moving out of the county.  To be fair, the system only allows all sirens to sound instead of a select few.  These false alarms create the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome.

The fix?  First, I strongly feel if we're going to keep sirens, they must be controlled by a central agency within the state.  That could be either the National Weather Service or the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management.  Second, they all must be networked and automated.  Many years ago, the National Weather Service went from county based warnings to storm based warnings meaning only those areas within a county affected by the storm will get a warning instead of the entire county.    Those are the polygons you see on Channel 7 and on the National Weather Service web page.  However, some of the sirens to this day go off for an entire county instead of the real area in danger.  The system must be set up so that once a tornado warning is issued, only those sirens within the polygon are sounded.

It's important to note, no warning system is fool proof.  Some are much better than others and everyone MUST have a NOAA weather radio or another reliable way to receive warnings.  Changing the way sirens are sounded will help reduce the false alarm rate perceived by the public.  It will make hearing those sirens mean something.  If they go off, there's real danger.  But you must remember, they are only intended to warn those who are outdoors.  From my understanding, the big hurdle in modifying the system is $$$$$$$.

Thanks for reading my rant and please feel free to submit a comment below.

8 comments:

D. Mitchell said...

I think the siren system needs to stay. I agree it should be updated and the entire state should have the same policy, but Arkansas is unique in its demand for local control. I feel the counties should base it on what a meteorologist actually says.

I'm not a big of automation as I have seen the more parts a system has, that just means there is more to repair when things go wrong. It also means more cost. Considering some counties don't even have properly working sirens in the first place, I doubt they will be able to find the money to fix and even more expensive system.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, but may I offer a suggestion? White text on a black background is very difficult for some people to read. I'm not trying to criticize, just thought I would let you know. :)

Anonymous said...

In opinion, it would be cheaper to give every resident of Arkansas a weather radio. I am not advocating sending them in the mail. Hold meetings where the radios are distributed and programmed(yearly). I think every campground needs a siren for severe weather and floods. Businesses and churches need to come up with their own emergency plans. It amazes me how many businesses and churches don't have a plan. Especially churches. Somebody needs to be monitoring the weather during severe events.

Anonymous said...

And no warning system is fool* proof either....sorry just couldn't resist.....and good piece here. But this won't help unless you send it to some government official right? We can talk about it all day but....

With wireless tech like it is these days I'd think they could all have a cell connection and then the weather service system would set them off as needed. Some could probably even be solar powered so they could basically be setup anywhere in the state with no need for power or wired connection. Now we need to find the money and make it happen....if we just knew a tv news station that would do a piece on it and call out the state government for their lack of oversight of it....

Rachael Veregge said...

I slept through the tornado that went through Leawood in 2008. I know there are working sirens in my neighborhood. I was a heavy sleeper, I am no longer a heavy sleeper when there are storms. At that time I did not have TV or a weather radio. I think within the week I signed up for weather alert phone calls from Ned. Now days I do have a TV and we get weather alerts from our cell phones, which I do not sleep through. I'm sure there are other people who sleep through the sirens.

I agree that the current system needs to be updated and fixed. I also agree that there needs to be one primary agency responsible for the monitoring of tornadoes and the sounding of the sirens (once they are fixed). We live in an area that is prone to tornadoes. We have had many devastating tornadoes in the recent years. This is not likely to just disappear. So we desperately need to find a solution that is agreeable to the majority. We can replace things, but we cannot replace lives.

Anonymous said...

Totally off the subject. When will the rain let up? Rain once or twice a week is good for crops. However, days of heavy rain not good.

Beyond The Political Spectrum said...

I actually wrote a 90-page book on tornado safety, "The No-Nonsense Guide to Tornado Safety" with more helpful information than what can be listed here. It's on Amazon, Lulu books, and Barnes & Nobles (online. Also available in various ebooks formats)

Anonymous said...

The sirens have been very helpful, many times, during the 45 years I've lived in Little Rock. You couldn't always hear them well, but with the updated models, they're much, much better then the old ones. I spend a lot of time outdoors and fully support keeping them, but I also fully support Todd's ideas on updating the system. Whatever the cost may be, I can't imagine it out-weighing the safety issues with the current system.

One of the tornadoes that hit Vilonia passed near Lake Maumelle on it's way. I can remember watching it pass my residence on radar and feeling the relief of knowing I was safe. Soon afterwards, the sirens in West Little Rock sounded for the first time, even though the tornado was likely out of Little Rock by this time. I've noticed the sirens sounding too late for West Little Rock multiple times in recent years and even have a friend whose house was struck before the sirens sounded, so I really hope Todd gets his way and the system is updated.