Standards to Be Put in Place for Tornado Sirens

Thursday, February 26th 2009, 12:11 am
By: News 9

By Dave Jordan, NEWS 9

OKLAHOMA CITY - Most Oklahomans know what to do when the tornado siren wails. Who is actually responsible for sounding those sirens is not common knowledge, however.

Usually when the county issues a severe weather warning, cities follow suit by setting off a siren. But some cities within the same county have separate guidelines.

The high-pierced wail of a storm siren is the first line of defense for anyone seeking shelter from severe weather.

"Our sirens are activated when we receive a warning," Frank Barnes with Oklahoma City Emergency Management said. "Our philosophy is to warn our citizens as early as possible."

The warning often comes from the National Weather Service who issues it on a county by county basis. Oklahoma City borders several counties and often times, multiple warnings are issued.

"If the warning is issued for Cleveland County, we'll sound the warning in Cleveland County. If the warning is issued in Oklahoma County, we'll sound the sirens in Oklahoma County," Barnes said. "Storms move, tornadoes are not predictable and we also want to make sure that people who are on the other side of the city away from the storm aren't driving into it."

But Bethany Fire Chief Scott Schroder has a different philosophy. He's in charge of sounding the storm sirens there.

"If the storm's coming though and they're all east of I-35, but they're going to hit the eastern part of Oklahoma County, we're not going to sound the sirens in Bethany just because we're in Oklahoma County," Schroder said.

Schroder says he'll alert Bethany only if the city is in the path of the storm. That has caused confusion as recently as this month when twisters touched down.

"Somebody from SNU college called and asked me why they can hear sirens from Oklahoma City and theirs wasn't going off and I explained to them why, because Oklahoma City does theirs by county," Schroder said.

Texas has the same problem and this week, the North Texas Council of Governments came up with new, uniform criteria to activate the sirens. Officials believe Oklahoma could benefit from a similar strategy.

"It would be easier if we were on the same page," Barnes said. "It would be easier to do public education and information and then citizens would know what those sirens mean."

Oklahoma City emergency management is planning a review of its policy in the in the next few weeks. Right now, it's not clear if a uniform standard on activating storm sirens will be discussed.

Learn more about tornado safety.