I am writing in response to Jim McKenzie's Jan. 28 letter regarding his desire to have tornado sirens installed in Columbia County.
As a 29-year career emergency planner, I have thoroughly researched the pros and cons of tornado sirens many times through the years, and below are my findings:
Yes, tornadoes can occur here. They have occurred here in the past and they could occur here again. This is a fact. But it's also a fact that we now have a much better warning system that can provide instant warnings of all types (not just tornadoes) directly from the weather service. This system will wake you up in the middle of the night, provide detailed voice instructions on what the emergency is, what actions you should take, and provide coverage for everyone.
This is the NOAA Alert Radio. You can read details on the NOAA Alert Radio by clicking on www. columbiacountyga.gov.
The problem with sirens is that you never have enough of them so that everyone hears them, and when people are inside with TV or other appliances operating, you don't hear them at all. NOAA radio sounds an alert tone to tell you a watch or warning has been issue, even in the middle of the night when you're asleep. It definitely wakes you up.
NOAA radios are activated directly by the weather service, and sirens are not, so there's the time delay on warning with sirens. Sometimes there is a "cry wolf" syndrome with sirens. We get several tornado watches and warnings each year. If sirens are constantly sounding, this will unnerve people and cause them not to take warnings seriously after a while. When we tested the sirens every Wednesday around noon in downtown Augusta in the early 1980s, we were constantly chastised for waking people up and scaring people. We were ordered to stop testing them and they eventually were taken down.
Sirens are best suited for very small towns, golf courses or other similar locations.
A county with 300 square miles is not a good candidate for a siren warning system. It would cost millions of dollars to install and maintain enough sirens to cover everyone in our county. So cost does have to figure into the "cost/benefit" analysis. ...
Outdoor warning sirens are just that - devices to warn people engaged in outdoor activities.
We continuously publicize the critical need for citizens to purchase a NOAA Alert Radio and why we obtained a grant to place more than 500 of the NOAA Alert Radios in all of our public facilities, including schools, nursing homes, day care centers, and hundreds of other locations.
I talk about the NOAA radios at every presentation I make and urge people to take the initiative to purchase one for their home and business.
Every home needs to have a NOAA Alert Radio. They also make portable units that you can keep with you all the time. This small investment offers families their own private warning system that sounds an alert, along with detailed information on where the tornado is heading, directly from the National Weather Service. It is just as necessary as a smoke detector.
Pam Tucker is director of the Columbia County Emergency Services Division.
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