Weatherford Democrat

May 17, 2013

Do outdoor sirens work?

That is a question city officials are asking after Wednesday’s North Texas tornado outbreak


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRIAN SMITH

With no outdoor warning system, Wednesday night’s tornadoes has Weatherford city officials looking into the best way of informing residents about severe weather.

City Manager Jerry Blaisdell, Fire Chief Paul Rust and Police Chief Mike Manning all met Thursday to discuss the issue with Blaisdell urging the chiefs to research the issue and get back with him. Blaisdell said the issue of notification has been visited in the last few years with no clear definition of what to do.

As many as 10 area tornadoes have been confirmed by the National Weather Service. Along with various severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings in Parker County, three tornado warnings were also issued in the county, including one in the Millsap area where a twister damaged several structures and homes, and one in the Annetta area. A twister also reportedly touched down off Tin Top Road south of Weatherford.

The hardest hit areas were Granbury, where up to six people were killed, and Cleburne as well as portions of Ellis County. The storms left dozens of people injured and hundreds homeless.

Blaisdell said the city used an outdoor siren system years ago, but said the sirens tend to have the opposite effect of their intent.

“When people hear sirens, then tend to go outside and begin looking around, which is the last thing they should be doing,” Blaisdell said. “Why don’t we have an outdoor system? Is the siren the most efficient way of informing people of a tornado? That’s what we’re going to find out.”

The city has offered emergency transponders to residents, which also alert people in the case of a weather emergency. A phone system which is supposed to alert residents by phone of an impeding emergency didn’t work the way it was supposed to Wednesday, as tornadoes were seen east of Millsap and reportedly heading toward town.

Blaisdell said the system will be looked at and a reason determined for the failure.

Manning was a little closer to the Granbury tornado than most, as he was on the phone with his daughter, who lives in Granbury, when the tornado there hit.

“We were talking and she looks up and sees the cloud rotating,” Manning said. “She goes in the house and sees the tornado touch down on the other side of the lake there,”

Emergency preparedness is something the city departments, in coordination with the county, look at from time to time. He said Wednesday’s tornado allowed the city about 15 minutes to prepare, but even preparation time is no guarantee in any storm.

“We positioned units all over town so we could be ready, but there was no way of knowing where or if it was going to hit,” Manning said. “Fortunately, we were able to dodge the bullet.”

Manning said reactions to early warning are really human nature.

“With any kind of early warning system, human reaction is to go outside and see what’s going on if we can’t see it directly,” Manning said. “If we’re not hearing anything we associate with a storm, we go outside and look to see what the danger is.”

Departments and entities must deal with such things as home construction, which is different than they were 30 years ago.

“It’s a comfort to know the sirens are there but with the way houses are insulated and structurally sounder today, you may not hear them,” Manning said. “We seal up our homes so we can’t hear the air conditioner outside or the dogs barking, so the chances of hearing a siren aren’t as great as they were years ago.”

Manning said dealing with weather in which you may or may not have a warning is something that departments contend with and will continue to deal with.