We have had the same issue here in Sedgwick County, Kansas, in that the current warning siren system is over 50 years old and sirens cannot be selectively activated. So yes, every single siren in the county is activated regardless of where that particular tornado threat may be located. There are now (finally!) plans to upgrade the system to a new digital system. The new system WILL allow selective activation and only that part of the county that is in the predicted impact zone will have their sirens activated. I believe the new digital system will also have voice messaging capabilities similar to what was heard in the Arab, AL tornado video. McConnell AFB on the southeast side of Wichita also has the digital siren/voice system and I can clearly hear the voice announcements from the base (approx. 1.5 miles NNW from my house) after each siren system test (unless there is a stout north wind).
Clearly the county emergency management staff and the local WFO will have to implement some public education dissemination following the upgrade and this may avert some of the cry-wolf attitudes that those in general public have adopted over the years. But, I agree with others that there will always be some people who will ignore the warnings until it is too late. Additionally, there will always be those people who have to conduct their own self-assessment before they go to their safe place.
I also agree with Mike Smith, who ends his paper "What If They Never Got the Warnings?" with an appeal to the National Weather Service to closely examine the April 27 early morning power failures in Alabama and determine how much of a direct impact this had in the devastating loss of lives.
Here is an excerpt of a story on our county warning system upgrade:
"WICHITA, Kansas -- When a tornado is knocking on the door, what many want to hear is sirens sounding. But without an upgrade to the current sirens in Sedgwick County, what citizens will hear, as of January 1, 2013, is silence.
â€œBecause we will not be able to broadcast emissions within the scope of our FCC license,â€ explains Randall Duncan, Sedgwick County Emergency Management.
Tuesday, Duncan presented four options to Sedgwick County leaders. The first option is to do nothing with the current sirens, which are more than 50 years old. This option would mean the county would no longer have outdoor warning sirens after January 2013. The second option is to upgrade the current analog system. This option would keep the sirens blaring after 2013, but is not a permanent fix. The third option is to install a new digital system, replacing the 101 current sirens. Sedgwick County Commissioners decided on the fourth option presented, which upgrades all of the county sirens and includes 52 sirens in the countyâ€™s various towns and cities.
â€œThat will benefit them and the entire county because now we will have seamless warning system that's able to target into exactly the area,â€œ says Duncan.
That means if there is a threat in one area of the county, the sirens will only sound in that area.
â€œThe people in Cheney don't want to shut down their operations if Derby is at risk and it's going in the other direction,â€ said Bob Lamkey, director of Sedgwick County Public Safety.
This all comes as good news to those in charge of safety in the smaller communities in Sedgwick County.
â€œWhen the storm sirens sound, you will know that we're the ones being affected,â€ says Brad Smith, Derby Fire Chief.
The work will cost almost $1.25 million. After final approval from the Sedgwick County Commission, work will begin in the fall of 2011 and should be done by next storm season."
Story is from KSN.com.