Nashville Adding 20 New Tornado Sirens, Changing Sound - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Nashville Adding 20 New Tornado Sirens, Changing Sound

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With spring severe weather season approaching, the city of Nashville plans to add 20 new tornado sirens and change their sound as part of a $2-million expansion of their tornado warning siren system.

Officials expect to start the project this week, and have the new sirens installed by March 7. The full upgrade of the system will be complete by the end of April.

With the addition of the new sirens, there will be 93 siren sites in Davidson County. Additionally, the sound will change from an electric tone to a mechanically generated tone, similar to an old-fashioned air-raid warning. 

Map of current and proposed tornado siren sites

In April 1998, tornadoes ripped across Middle Tennessee, including one that slammed into downtown and the NewsChannel 5 studios.

The storm killed a Vanderbilt student in Centennial Park, leading Metro to install seventy sirens in 2002. They added three more a few years later.

Today their electronic warning tone blankets most of Davidson County, but the system has aged and needs to be replaced.

Mayor Karl Dean and officials with the Metro Emergency Operation Center unveiled the new plan Wednesday.

"This improved and expanded weather siren system will help keep Davidson County residents safe during tornado season," Dean said. "Sirens are crucial to alert people outdoors that they need to take cover. Most importantly, we want everyone to be aware of the new sound the system will use, which will reach farther and should be easier for people to hear."

EOC manager Scott Potter said the new sounds will help people take better notice of the alerts.

"It sounds like an old World War II era air raid warning," said EOC Manager Scott Potter. "That sounds more like a danger signal that people will associate with a weather system than the tone."

Potter said he hoped upgrading the 73 current sites and adding 20 more will warn people who are outside a tornado is approaching.

"It's going to be a louder system so people are going to hear this inside, but the purpose fundamentally is an outdoor warning system to make people go inside and find out what's happening," he said.

Metro government received grant funds in 2002 that allowed them to build an Outdoor Weather Warning System. The grant specified that the siren locations must be based on the 2000 Census data and outdoor population expectations.

This upgrade will include the latest 2010 Census data to recommend new locations. The new sites were identified, selected and recommended by the Metropolitan Planning Commission staff. You can view the entire list of tornado sirens, including the new ones, here.

The tornado warning siren system provides emergency weather alerts to those in outdoor settings when a tornado warning had been issued anywhere in Davidson County. When a tornado warning is issued, the system will repeat the siren warnings for three minutes every 10 minutes until the warning expires.

The expansion and upgrade will be funded from a capital bond program proposed by Mayor Dean and approved by the Metro Council in 2012.

Critics have said the sirens may not be completely effective.

In a report released by the National Weather Service after the Joplin, Missouri tornado of 2011, meteorologists found "the perceived frequency of siren activation in Joplin led the majority of survey participants to become desensitized or complacent to this method of warning."

It went on to say, "The majority of Joplin residents did not take protective action" until they either saw the tornado coming or on the news.

The tornado killed 161 that day.

Metro officials said the new system will cost $2 million and should give people enough time to get to safety indoors.

Some counties don't have sirens at all, like neighboring Sumner County. EMA director Ken Widener said he wasn't against sirens, especially when it comes to warning people outdoors, but said he worries about complacency.

Widener believes new cell phone alerts may be more targeted and effective.

Link: Map of all siren sites across Davidson County

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