Preparedness

3 Reasons Why Windsor and Greeley, Colo., Don't Have Tornado Sirens

Officials say outdoor warning sirens are just that — a warning for people who are outside to take cover and find more information.

by Emily Wenger, Greeley Tribune, Colo. / July 31, 2018

(TNS) — When he was home for lunch Monday, Dennis Wagner, director of engineering for the town of Windsor, got a phone call from an unknown number so he decided not to answer.

When he checked his voicemail, he discovered it was a reminder from Weld County to sign up for emergency alerts, if he hadn't already. Of course, Wagner said, he has, because it's one of the best ways to learn if any harsh weather is expected to hit Windsor.

The old method — outdoor warning sirens — seems pretty outdated, he said.

Other Windsor officials agree, as do those in Greeley. After the mile-wide, 2008 tornado that hit Windsor and other parts of Weld County, Windsor residents have wondered on social media and at town events — like this year's commemoration of the 10-year anniversary of the tornado — why the town hasn't chosen to put sirens in place.

The hail storm that hit parts of Weld County Sunday was another catalyst for resident conversations about sirens.

Although some rural communities in Weld County do have the sirens — it's up to each community whether or not they want them — Windsor, Greeley and some other communities have opted out, for reasons including the following:

1. Effectiveness

Officials say outdoor warning sirens are just that — a warning for people who are outside to take cover and find more information.

The sirens don't reach far, said Mike Blackwill, interim fire chief for Windsor Severance Fire Rescue, and aren't designed to reach people who are already indoors. Blackwill was raised in Missouri and grew up with a siren down the road from his house.

"Unless you're living right across the street, you're probably not going to hear it," he said.

That lack of reach also means the town of Windsor and city of Greeley would have to install multiple sirens, which quickly adds to the cost of such a project.

When city of Greeley staff were considering adding sirens in 2009, they also discussed the possibility that some people who are indoors, if they heard the siren, might go outside to investigate and end up in danger.

2. Cost

When Greeley considered a citywide system, it estimated it would cost $800,000. Pete Morgan, fire marshal with the Greeley Fire Department, said that cost has almost certainly gone up since it was estimated. And yearly maintenance costs would have to factor in, as well.

For Windsor, too, cost became more and more of an issue as the community grew, said Windsor Police Chief Rick Klimek. The cost didn't seem to be worth it, when the town and county had a variety of other options to alert residents that provide more information than a noise that means people should seek shelter.

3. Other options

Windsor and Greeley officials agree residents have myriad options that can be as effective, or more effective, than sirens.

Windsor Severance Fire Rescue recommends residents in its coverage area use LETA911, the Larimer Emergency Telephone Authority. You can sign up for text alerts or phone calls that will warn of incoming storms.

Weld County also offers text or call alerts through CodeRED, which offers a variety of emergency alerts, including for storm and tornado warnings.

Those warnings, said Blackwill, provide a lot more information than a siren can. Instead of just letting people know something is coming, like a siren, emergency alerts from the county or from news outlets can show a timeline of when the storm is expected to hit and where, and provide continuous updates.

Merrie Leach Garner, coordinator for the Weld County Office of Emergency Management, said it's always a good idea to have multiple routes to take to receive alerts.

The CodeRED alerts, which residents can sign up for at weld911alert.com, are used by the county dispatch center to notify residents of events specific to their neighborhoods, like police activity and evacuation notifications.

But notification systems like a weather radio is also one of the best tools residents can use, Garner said. It's not as localized, but will give weather warnings in enough time for people to react, and know what's coming.

If you don't have good cellphone coverage at your home, the radio is a good option, or residents can sign up for phone calls rather than texts.

Sirens are seen mostly in agricultural areas, where people may be working outside in a field, or may not have TV or a radio on hand. They can tell people to get inside and find more information, Garner said.

Signing up for alerts from news outlets also doesn't hurt, she said.

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©2018 the Greeley Tribune (Greeley, Colo.)

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