The tornado warning sirens in Randolph County will soon fall silent after the county commission voted at their meeting last week to stop maintaining the county’s aging and costly warning system.
In an effort to implement a replacement warning system, the commission approved a 20-month agreement with Asher Group Services in the amount of $9,082 from American Rescue Plan funds for Hyper Reach Customers, a mass alert system.
The new system will send text messages and recorded alerts via cellphones and landlines.
Tornado sirens are a dated and unreliable way to keep up with dangerous storms. Before weather radar and cell phones came about, tornado sirens were the most advanced method of warning the county about approaching severe storms. Today, we have lots of proven and effective ways to instantly receive tornado warnings no matter where we are or what we’re doing.
The county fire association approached the commission last month to ask for assistance in paying for maintenance and repairs of the sirens, but the repairs would be costly and parts are not readily available.
EMA Director Donnie Knight told the commission there were 34 sirens around the county and 32 of them were inoperable.
“The cost of maintenance and repairs is more now than the original cost of putting them up years ago,” Knight said.
Sheriff David Cofield said he didn’t see any downside to the new system. More information will be released on how to sign up for the alerts as the system is implemented. Commissioners agreed this system will benefit all citizens.
All smartphones are equipped with Wireless Emergency Alerts that send to your device the moment your location goes under a tornado warning. Programmable NOAA Weather Radios are also a sturdy and trusted way to receive warnings, as are over-the-air television and radio stations.
Tornado sirens served their purpose in their day, but communities in tornado-prone areas need to break the “siren mentality,” as Alabama meteorologist James Spann refers to the habit of relying on tornado sirens as one’s primary method of early warning.
The single biggest problem with these aging systems is that tornado sirens are not designed to be heard indoors. Some folks can hear them indoors in some areas some of the time, but they’re not meant to be heard in a building. Tornado sirens are outdoor alerting systems originally intended for situations like farmers plowing their fields.
A system of tornado sirens can fail when the power goes out, as a result of storm damage, or simply because there was a technical glitch somewhere between the point of activation and the actual siren itself. The direction of the wind or the sound of the rain can muffle a siren or prevent its sound from traveling in certain directions. Their proneness to failure makes relying on sirens as a primary source of receiving tornado warnings an exceptionally dangerous gamble.
Part of the interest in tornado sirens is that they’re free to county residents. Not everyone can afford a cell phone or monitor television news to listen for warnings.
No warning method however is without its flaws. A cell phone’s battery can run out or the device can lose its signal, and weather radios are also prone to signal loss and power failures. Even with these limitations, they’re still much more reliable than tornado sirens. That’s why it’s so important to have multiple ways to receive warnings when bad weather is approaching.
In other business, the commission:
- Reappointed Donnie Knight as safety coordinator for the county.
- Approved a request for assistance with burial expenses for Dennis Daniel Higgins.
- Terminated the COVID-19 leave policy.
- Approved the purchase of a 2023 CAT track loader with financing through First Bank Wadley.
- Rescinded a motion of February 27 transferring .13 acres of property to the Town of Wadley. It was discovered the town already owned the property.