Prattville tornado siren questions shed light on activation system

Prattville tornado siren questions shed light on activation system

AUTAUGA CO., AL (WSFA) - Mother Nature had emergency management crews on their toes across the area during the first weekend of 2015.

Some of the worst damage from thunderstorms and tornadoes came in Crenshaw County where an EF-2 tornado touched down.

It damaged or destroyed several buildings, but thankfully, no one was hurt.

An EF-0 tornado hit Marion County to our northwest. And in Tuscaloosa County, flooding washed away several roads.

Here in the River Region, both Autauga and Montgomery Counties were under tornado warning at some point. But some residents in those counties are concerned after not hearing emergency sirens when the warning was issued.

But there's a reason for that.

When a tornado warning is issued for an area, the warning itself fits into what's called a polygon.

Autauga and Elmore Counties are using a polygon based siren activation system that's is linked directly to the National Weather Service so sirens inside the polygon automatically fire when there's a warning. The polygon system only triggers sirens in potentially impacted areas. In Prattville, that raised some questions

"A couple of residents called concerning the fact that they didn't hear a siren in their area fire, they didn't hear them go off. That tells us the system is doing exactly what it should be doing. If they're not in the polygon area, it shouldn't go off," explained Autauga County EMA Director Ernie Baggett. "There may be a tornado warning issued for the county, but only the affected area is where the sirens will actually fire from."

Baggett said the Autauga County EMA Office and the Prattville Mayor's Office fielded calls from citizens asking about the sirens. Autauga County has been using the polygon system for several years. Elmore County has been using it for the past year.

"It's totally automated. It handles it itself. It receives the information from the weather service and then automatically fires those sirens so there's no delay. As soon as the information is sent out, this computer receives it and it automatically sends a signal to those sirens to to detonate," Baggett explained.

The specificity of the program is designed to keep places like hospitals and nursing homes from having to initiate protocols to move patients to safe areas when a storm may be miles away and it also keeps residents from becoming complacent when they hear sirens go off.

"That way, we don't overwarn through having the entire county's siren system activated.We don't overwarn or warn areas that are not going to be or potentially going to be impacted by that storm," said Elmore County EMA Director Eric Jones. "The more times they are alerted and nothing happens, then they become a little more complacent so this is to keep that from happening so whenever folks do hear the alerts or the sirens sounding and there is a potential for severe weather, especially tornado type weather, we want them to take action immediately and taken shelter immediately."

EMA officials also encourage residents to have weather radios in their home and mobile alerts set up on their cell phones for when severe weather strikes.

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