Don't Sound the Sirens! Under a Tornado Warning.

Discussion in 'Weather In The News' started by Glen Heinz, Mar 8, 2017.

  1. Glen Heinz

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  2. Brad Dormer

    Brad Dormer Member

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    How are they supposed to see rotation at night anyways? They should've sounded the sirens to be on the safe side no matter what, it's better to be safe and sound the sirens then not be safe and risk losing a town and lives. I know my town does it the second we get put under a tornado warning, even sometimes under a severe thunderstorm warning for winds over 70mph. "Momentarily intensified" are great words of what sometimes happens and why it's better to be safe then sorry.
     
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  3. Randy Jennings

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    A similar thing happened in a city in the DFW a few years back (NWS issues warning, one city didn't sound sirens, people complained, media reported on it, city made excuses). IMHO, it was a CYA on the city's part. The way it played out after that was the city sounded the sirens for even non-tornadic storms. People started to complain that the city was sounding them too often, so they backed down and now only sound them for tornado warnings and higher end severe events. That city now has a well defined criteria for sounding them. We'll see how this plays out in Lee's Summit, but my guess is the sirens will go off on the next "radar indicated" tornado warning.
     
  4. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Arbitrarily calls almost every setup a bust
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    IMO sirens are becoming less useful as a means of warning the public about severe weather. Also, from the city of Lee's Summit's statement:

    As technology advances and more and more people have smartphones and moving to alternate sources of information, I suspect the use of outdoor warning sirens will generally continue to wane and it will be less and less of a problem if sirens are not sounded. Sirens are certainly still useful, but I think at some level you have to just assume personal responsibility for your own safety - there are many other ways to get weather warnings nowadays. You should not be relying solely on sirens.
     
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  5. rdale

    rdale Member

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    So they used some of their notification systems but not all? Sigh... That's just stupid.
     
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  6. Kevin R Burgess

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    Jeff,
    Not *everyone* has a Smart Phone,or a Weather Radio,and not everyone has their TV turned-on...
    They maybe sitting by an open window,reading a book,and enjoying the nice breeze... Are they NOT WORTHY of a warning,if they were raised to the City/County sounding an alert ?
     
  7. rdale

    rdale Member

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    Kevin - part of Jeff's point is based on this case alone. If they didn't sound them for a tornado warning, and a tornado hit, what value were they? I'm sure we'll still see them for another 10-20 years, but if I were a long-term investor I wouldn't bank on them being around in 2050 ;)
     
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  8. Kevin R Burgess

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    RDale,
    WTF ?
    Which case ?
     
  9. Randy Jennings

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    Around 2011, the city of Garland TX (near Dallas) was faced with an aging siren system and instead of funding repairs/replacement the city council deceded to abandon the system and use Code Red (a "reverse 911" system) instead. After feedback from the public, two years later they reversed that decision and invested in a new siren system (they still use Code Red also). You can read about this at http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2013/04/17/garland-getting-new-tornado-siren-system/ and at http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/New-Garland-Storm-Sirens-Getting-Installed--204381421.html

    Yes there are new technologies, and yes they outdoor warning siren systems only cover outdoor areas (and often then only areas where people gather outdoors and not an entire city). A lot of the public still expect the outdoor warning sirens to be in place and be sounded. I suspect sirens are here to stay for a while longer in many communities. The good news is folks can't turn off the outdoor warning sirens like many do to WEA on their phones, and they don't have to register and keep their phone numbers updated for outdoor warning sirens (like they do for most reverse 911 systems).
     
  10. Kevin R Burgess

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    Randy,
    As Jeff quoted; "you have to assume 'personal' responsibility for your own safety.

    again, If I was out,at a park,making love to my girl,,,,
    I don't deserve a warning ?
    Smiling ear to ear ! ! !
     
    #10 Kevin R Burgess, Mar 12, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2017
  11. Jeff Duda

    Jeff Duda Arbitrarily calls almost every setup a bust
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    Okay, Kevin, let's not get crazy here. I think you have a valid response to what I said, but at the same time I still think what I said is pretty reasonable. The fraction of people who have no other means of getting weather warnings than outdoor warning sirens is decreasing day by day, and frankly, the value of building and/or maintaining aged systems like outdoor warning sirens will eventually be surpassed by their cost as the value of using other technologies rises and exceeds the cost of building and maintaining THOSE systems. Obviously no one sane WANTS people to have to fend for themselves as far as being alerted to oncoming severe weather, but at the same time it's impossible for any municipal system to guarantee protection of every single one of its citizens. I'll reiterate my point that, at some point, every person is ultimately responsible for their own safety, regardless of the situation. Even people who DO get warnings still have to take appropriate action against severe weather, and in some situations (like tornadoes) 100% safety cannot be guaranteed. And there are plenty of cases in which people receive warnings but do not heed them appropriately, and thus suffer as a result of not being responsible for their own safety. My point is it's just not possible for any overarching system to guarantee the safety of every last person without becoming cost-unworthy.

    I hate to say it this way, but if you could only choose one of the following, which would you take? a) Spend $1,000,000 on a warning system that protects 95% of your citizens; or b) spend $10,000,000 ($9,000,000 more, which you may not have) to protect an additional 4.5%? The math: $1 million for 95% is ~$10,500 per 1% of your population, or $10 million for 99.5% (~$100,500 per 1%) of your population)?

    Insurance companies do this all the time. I'm pretty sure you can google the current insurance value of a human life somewhere.
     
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  12. Kevin R Burgess

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    Jeff,
    You say," It's not costworthy to warn people of upcoming danger" ?

    Then WHY do why pay taxes ?


    UHG ! ! !
     
  13. Glen Heinz

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    Jeff, I see what you're saying and understand. You make a very valid point. I also agree, to a point.
    (Here's my point) But this Decision to not use the Sirens. When you already have a working paid for Siren system in place. Makes no sense to me.
    The decision should have been (IMHO) to sound the Siren period. Protect your General Public by all means. If you have it, USE IT! Until it breaks or they take it down, burn it or whatever. Not doing any good by sitting there silent...

    Sorry Jeff, I'm not trying to be rude to you personally. Please don't take this post the wrong way. I was just putting it simply & bluntly.

    As I read over the other posts. Counties not sounding and sounding Sirens for less then a Tornado warning.
    Maybe they need to be Federally mandated? Maybe from the NWS offices? (This could also give NWS a bigger budget) Maybe taking them down all together? Since there are people who wouldn't use the Siren System. Don't waste funds on maintaining it. If you don't plan on using it...
     
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  14. James Hammett

    James Hammett Member

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    It's possible to both 1) agree with the OP that Lee's Summit should have sounded the sirens; and 2) acknowledge that siren system reach and reliability are not to be relied upon.
     
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  15. Glen Heinz

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    Agreed, Mr. Hammett. There is a Siren System about 5 miles from my house. I think I heard it one time outside. During a test and it a was nice quite tranquil day. Never ever heard it any other time. You should not rely on them.
    I've taken my own responsibility. Getting a weather ready radio, two weather stations and a self monitoring alarm system for severe weather. The bad part is the weather radio doesn't work for me. Reception is horrible here. Even after buying and installing antennae. It's still has bad reception. Even says it on the LCD display on it "Check Reception". That's why I got a self monitoring weather alarm system. Doesn't rely on NWS or wx radio...
     
    #15 Glen Heinz, Mar 13, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2017
  16. Steve Holmes

    Steve Holmes Member

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    I can't tell a GFS from a HRRR like you guys can, but I've studied tornado safety. Some weird stuff I've learned:

    And for anything remotely resembling a funnel. Human nature strikes again. If you're criticized, CYA by overcompensating. Up goes the FAR.

    You may be right, rdale. But for now, they're entrenched. People expect to hear them. A study of the Joplin tornado said 75% of people interviewed got their first warning for sirens. The WX community can argue long and loud, "They're not meant to be heard indoors," and that's true, but people are not rational creatures. There was a story about sirens being discontinued as a way of signaling the beginning and end of the lunch hour in a small town. Enough people got upset with the change that it was reversed. Human nature.

    Siren pros:
    1) They are the only warning device that can be controlled locally. Not all Emergency Managers take all their cues from the NWS. In 2008, the Picher (OK) sirens went off six minutes before the NWS warning came out, based on spotting by a volunteer firefighter west of town.

    2) They have other uses. They can warn for a chemical spill or flash flood, for example. Others are "fire alarms" to notify the volunteer FD to show up for an emergency. So why not use them for tornadoes, too?

    Siren cons:
    1) They can fail. In 2012, lightning knocked out power to sirens in Woodward, OK just before a deadly tornado moved in.

    2) Siren policies differ, even between neighboring towns. What they're sounded for here, they might not be sounded for there. Confusion over what the sirens meant was reported in Tuscaloosa and in Joplin. Most places don't sound an all-clear. Some do. In Joplin, the unprecedented second sounding spurred action among some. Others took it as an all-clear. Are they activated for derechos? Some SW MO communities have coordinated their policies.

    3) They desensitize people to the dangers, especially if they're sounded in tests. This ties in with the FAR issue. What's the solution? If the WX community had a consensus, we'd know it by now. Said one met, paraphrasing here, "Sirens are a good way to make it look like you're doing something about the problem when you're not." An EM called them the "hammer" in his warning toolbox. Larger cities can zone the sirens, as OKC said it would do, but you're still gonna hear them outside the warned area. Mix that problem with the FAR dilemma and the square-peg-in-a-round-hole challenge of text-warning for polygons, and you have a conversation too long for one post.
     
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  17. ScottCurry

    ScottCurry Member

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    I think there have been so many comments on this thread because as Steve Holmes said, "you have a conversation too long for one post". Believe me, this same conversation takes place at EOC's and OEM's across the country every year. I'm just going to throw my thoughts on here:

    (1) Jeff made a point of discontinuing them. Anybody remember using a roadside emergency phone? With so many people carrying cell phones, their use decreased tremendously. I remember Florida had a cost of about $650 per call before they finally started discontinued them. Yes, there are some people who don't have a cell phone, and might need an emergency roadside phone, but at some point, you need to consider the cost per person and determine the value. We may very well see emergency sirens discontinued in the near future for the same reasons.
    http://www.tbo.com/news/florida/communication-dinosaurs-are-disappearing-20131017/

    (2) For years, we have discussed how to reduce the number of false alarms on this site. Many people in small towns across the mid-west ignore the sirens because they "go off every time a cricket farts." A city really only has two options. (A) Sound the alarm every time, and risk people ignoring the alarms due to too many false alarms, or (B) Sound the alarm only when certain there is a tornado, and risk missing a few small, short lived tornadoes.

    (3) A few of you have pointed out people's adversity to change. This is, and will always be, true no matter what the circumstances. Whether it be stopping the use of tornado sirens, tearing down roadside emergency telephones, or a change in policy at your job - people will always fight change because it's uncomfortable. Even if the right thing to do is remove the sirens due to cost, the public will complain, the media will report, and then... a few years later... everyone will forget. It will become a thing of the past like leaded gasoline, floppy disks, and blockbuster.
     
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  18. rdale

    rdale Member

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    1) A siren costs about $20 per month for electricity - if that. So while I get the comparison, very few communities will be going broke keeping that siren up.
    2A) There is no evidence at all that sounding for every tornado warning causes complacency. The average community might get 1-2 tornado warnings per year - the discussion might be a little more valid in areas highly overwarned but that very same issue would impact every warning system.
    3) Again - cost isn't an issue, and that's why there is no push to make any wholesale changes.
     
  19. Randy Jennings

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    I think the big issue isn't the cost of siren operations (heck some of them are solar powered these days), but the cost of fixing or replacing them when they break.

    In the example I gave of Garland TX, the city council was facing a $900k budget line item to upgrade the aging siren system with a new 15 siren system. The mayor at the time was quoted as saying "Any money put into sirens is a waste, They are not worth the money in this time of limited dollars when virtually everyone has a means of carrying a warning system in their pocket." (see http://www.dallasnews.com/news/garland/2011/06/18/garland-to-dismantle-outdoor-warning-sirens). So the council voted to remove the old siren system and "commit to a system fully dependent on a combination of reverse 9-1-1, ReadyWarn, and weather radio warnings." A few years latter they found out that getting people to signup for the reverse-911 system was problematic and their residents wanted a siren system, so they voted to spend the money on a new siren system.

    The same article says that in 2006, they city of Dallas spent $3M on upgrading a 100 siren system. I suspect may cities will have the same debate as their systems age.
     
  20. ScottCurry

    ScottCurry Member

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    rdale, you forgot about maintenance. According to the below article, a new tornado siren costs $10,000 / year in parts for maintenance. That's nearly $1 million / year for the city in this article (90 tornado sirens).
    http://www.kcbd.com/story/22451866/amarillo-tornado-sirens-cost-25000-each-is-lubbock-ready

    What kind of maintenance do these sirens require?
    "Blue Valley Public Safety's crews already have responded to 51 service calls from the county since 2000, with many of the problems involving weather-related damages. Crews have rewired switches, replaced fuses, reprogrammed electronic equipment, replaced batteries, fixed locks, cleaned springs and even straightened the 60-foot-tall poles that support the sirens."
    Note: article was written in 2004
    http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2004/jan/21/upkeep_on_sirens/

    Here's a good opinion article discussing this topic:
    http://thevane.gawker.com/why-do-communities-keep-wasting-money-on-useless-tornad-1692687984
     
  21. rdale

    rdale Member

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    Scott - that price is for their entire network. Seems high for a network that new, but in any case I'd say $10K for crucial coverage is a good tradeoff. And not even a decimal place in their budget :)

    The newer sirens (installed in the past 10 years) require on average a few hundred dollars per year in maintenance. If that. We have 70 sirens in the county and average about $1000 per year for upkeep.
     
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  22. NancyM

    NancyM Noob

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    Seems ironic that this debate is happening in a city that is adjacent to Ruskin Heights, MO, site of one of the worst tornadoes in MO on record.
     

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