Sumner County EMA Director: Tornado Sirens Aren't Necessary Throughout County

Overuse Of Sirens Causes Complacency

GALLATIN, Tenn. - Sumner County Emergency Management Director Ken Widener said tornado sirens aren't necessary county-wide because they create complacency and other issues.

"There can't be a dependence on hearing an outdoor warning siren, and that being your only source," Widener said.

He added that many people mistakenly expect tornado sirens to give them a warning, even if they're indoors.

Tornado sirens have a long history, serving other purposes such as missile warning system during the Cold War. Since they've been used for tornadoes, Widener said there have been numerous issues with the sirens. 

According to Widener, history shows that the sirens don't always work effectively, pointing to Joplin, Missouri, Moore, Oklahoma, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

"People there didn't respond to outdoor warning sirens because of complacency. They had heard them time and time and time again." 

Widener said tornado warnings need to be taken seriously, even though most of the time, they end up being nothing. 

"What is our tornado warning false alarm rate? 90 something percent? High 90s? But that's based on the data that they take in and the conditions to produce that product, the tornado warning," Widener explained. 

It would take more than 200 sirens to completely cover Sumner County, and Widener stressed, they're meant for people who are outdoors, not indoors.

For people indoors, there are other means of notification. Widener said the preferred method is a weather radio, followed closely by cell phone alerts in an age where most people have smart phones, and TV broadcasts. 

"You can get text messages, you can download apps. There are so many things that you can do to have a layered approach to multiple sources of notification," Widener said. 

While Widener believes tornado sirens are not necessary county-wide, he does support having outdoor notification sirens at places such as parks and ball fields where people may not have a weather radio or cell phone handy.

However, he said no method is perfect. It takes being prepared and knowing when severe weather is headed your direction. 

"We do not know when a tornado is going to spin up, and we just have to be ready to protect ourselves and our families when that does occur," Widener said. 

Widener suggests people download weather notification apps, such as the NewsChannel 5 app, and sign up for CodeRed

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