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 In my opinion, it's really sad this outdated method of warning people continues in its present form.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.