EMA answers questions about warning sirens

Messenger photo by Mike Munden

On June 6, the Madison County Emergency Management Agency opened its Emergency Operations Center to first responders and agency representatives for tours. Director Roger Roberts (right) talks with Madison Correctional Institution Major Sandra Fisher and Madison County-London Health Department emergency preparedness coordinator Pat Lentz (seated). At the fire desk at left are: (from left) Central Township Joint Fire District Lt. Jake Rowe, fire fighter Jeremy Christian, and Stokes Township-South Solon Fire Department captain and training officer Emory Clark.

With a tornado spotted in West Jefferson on May 11 and at least two tornado watches and warnings issued since then, the Madison County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) has been fielding questions from the public about warning sirens.

The following are some of the most frequently asked questions and concerns with answers from EMA Director Roger Roberts.

• What if I can’t hear the sirens from inside my home?

“Outdoor sirens aren’t meant for those inside. It’s to tell those outside to get shelter,” Roberts said.

While someone inside a building might hear a siren, they likely would not be able to hear the voice messages that some sirens transmit. The volume needed for the voice messages to be heard inside would be dangerous to the hearing of anyone outside.

The best way to receive alerts about severe weather at home, Roberts said, is via weather radios. The EMA office sells the radios for $37.75 and programs them for the buyer’s area and surrounding counties. The radios also can be purchased at most general merchandise and hardware stores.

• How is the decision made to set off the sirens?

“They are set off only when we go to a ‘warning’—when we really think something is going to happen. Otherwise, it’s a ‘watch,’ ” Roberts explained.

The National Weather Service can issue tornado or severe weather warnings. Local first responders also can make that call if they spot a funnel cloud.

• What do I do if I hear a warning siren?

“When they go off, it means seek shelter now,” Roberts said. “If you hear the sirens or your weather radio goes off, turn on the TV or listen to the radio. Do not call 911.”

• Sounding the sirens in the middle of the night disrupts sleep.

“A few lost hours of sleep are better than a lost life,” Roberts said. “Night tornados are the worst kind… We’re not going to hesitate to use the sirens when we deem it important.”

• How many warning sirens does the county have?

“We have 12 active sirens—one at Choctaw, four in London, one in Mount Sterling, one in South Solon, three in West Jefferson, and two in Plain City,” Roberts said. Union County controls the two in Plain City.

• How often are the sirens tested?

The sirens are tested at noon every Wednesday. As of June 5, this schedule applies to all of the sirens, including the one in Mount Sterling, which previously was tested on Thursdays.

• Is progress being made on a mass notification system?

“The county did have one many years ago, but it was very difficult and expensive to use,” Roberts said. “We’re looking into a new system that more than likely will send notifications to people’s cell phones instead of their land lines.”

Such a system would be used not only to alert residents about severe weather, but also to let them know about manmade disasters (such as an overturned anhydrous tank) and school-related emergencies (such as Amber alerts and early release situations).

London City Schools is ahead of the game. With the school board’s blessing, the superintendent is working on a contract for an instant mass alert system for use  within the school district.

“We’re pleased that the school system has had the forethought to do it,” Roberts said.

For more tornado safety tips and emergency procedures, call the Madison County EMA at 740-852-4200 or go www.preparingmadisoncounty.org, a Web site sponsored by the EMA and the Madison County-London City Health Department.

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