Emergency Management Agencies explain outdoor storm warning siren systems

During many severe storms at least one siren in the area hasn't worked.

Posted: Feb 13, 2020 8:28 PM

Plenty of rain and flooding during the past two weeks during the past two weeks has brought severe weather warnings to our area.

Those severe storm warnings are when outdoor warning sirens can save lives, but in north Alabama, there are consistent problems with them not working.

Rita White, Limestone County Emergency Management Director, said her office does monthly tests to make sure the county's 27 warning sirens are working, but those tests don’t guarantee they’ll work when needed because of their location.

"They have various components in them. They have the computer boards, they have batteries. There are all kinds of parts to them so like any other piece of equipment you can have a failure of one. They are outdoors all the time. The parts are enclosed. The majority of them, but they are out in the weather," she said.

Across the state line in Tennessee, Doug Campbell, Lincoln County Emergency Management Director, said workers do weekly tests, but there was no scientific evidence to support those tests with the old system.

"We relied on citizens to call and say 'hey the siren at unity school isn't working,'" he said.

Campbell explained when a tornado warning was issued in December none of the sirens sounded just days after one of those weekly tests.

"The computer system was old. Naturally, technology had passed them by," he explained.

Back across the state line in Alabama, storms in Lawrence County prompted a tornado warning to be issued, but one siren didn't work.

Major damage was left behind by an EF-2 tornado during that warning. It killed 2 people and seriously injured several others.

Campbell said Lincoln County and the City of Fayetteville spent $70,000 to buy 10 new sirens for the area. These new sirens have technology that can be accessed remotely or at the emergency management agency office on a computer. It shows if the sirens are working, and if the different components inside the warning siren are operating properly.

"It gives us a piece of mind that the sirens are working. We would get calls in here all the time that said hey the siren didn't work. We didn't hear it, so we would have to call a technician. Technicians come out and see what's going on and why our siren did not work. With this system here, it automatically tells us there is something wrong," Campbell explained.

In Limestone County, White said it's siren testing systems creates a print out during monthly tests to show if there are any problems with the sirens. Last year, the county spent $10,000 fixing sirens. White said replacing all 27 sirens in the county would cost about $750,000. She believes the sirens aren't creating enough problems to make that necessary.

"We have pretty good luck with them now. Every now and then you'll have one with an issue or a problem. We do advise residents to not depend on those sirens. They are made for outdoor warning purposes. They're not made to be heard in doors. You may hear them indoors at time but then other times you may not. It all depends on cloud cover, wind, various factors," she said.

Emergency Management Directors all across North Alabama said they suggest everyone has at least two ways to receive emergency alerts such as getting alerts to their phone or having a weather radio.

WAAY 31 reached out to Emergency Management Agencies across north Alabama. Right now, Madison county told us one of it's warning sirens is not working. Marshall county told us it currently has 3 of it's sirens not working. Laurderale County said two of it's sirens aren't working. Morgan, Jackson, Dekalb, and Lawrence county said currently all of it's sirens are believed to working.

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