Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mayors discuss plans for tornado preparation

Mayors discuss plans for tornado preparation BY KATRINA CORNWELL Staff (Tennessean) • May 7, 2008 Deadly tornadoes – killing 15 people in just two years in Sumner County – have officials talking about the best way to notify the public and save lives when severe weather strikes. A council of mayors in Sumner County is weighing the merits of installing a countywide tornado siren warning system, according to Gallatin Mayor Jo Ann Graves.Meanwhile, Ken Weidner, director of the county’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA), is spearheading a parallel initiative by asking the group to consider putting a weather radio in every home in the county instead.Ray Horky, of Gallatin, says he wants tornado sirens installed.“I think it ought to really be looked at, Mayor,” Horky said. “There are several companies that provide such equipment. As we all know, one of the nice things a government gets to do is protect its citizens. This might be another way the government can protect its citizens with a warning at nighttime.” “The verdict is out whether sirens are the best to do or weather radios,” Graves said in a City Council meeting. “I will say this: weather radios are fairly inexpensive, at least as an interim, until we decide whether we’re going to do sirens or not.”Weidner told The News Examiner on Monday that although he had discussed his idea of placing weather radios in Sumner homes with the mayors’ group, he had not begun that dialogue with the county commission.“I’ve been looking at what it would take to do that,” he said. “It hasn’t gone to any committees. EMA could possibly secure federal grants to do that. I would go to emergency services committee to discuss that first.”Much of Tennessee, along with parts of Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi, has been identified as being part of a band of frequent fatal tornado strikes in a study published by Walker Ashley, a meteorologist who teaches at Northern Illinois University. According to Ashley, the Mid-South has the most deaths in the nation as the result of tornadoes, even though the Great Plains has been known as the national funnel-cloud hotspot for generations. “The weather changes we have seen in the last couple of years, we are in tornado alley,” Weidner said. “If that is so, we definitely need to look at ways to protect ourselves, and with the weather changes we’ve seen and the warm weather, it does present a problem.”Outdoor warning systems generally cost between $25,000 and $30,000 per siren, and the typical installation would include multiple sirens. Portland, for example, was examining estimates for an eight-siren system that would serve a 13-mile radius of the city at a total cost of about $216,000.Weather radios generally cost between $20-$50 each. EMA will program them free for residents at the emergency operations center on Cairo Road.“They’re fairly inexpensive,” Graves said. “I have one. It stays on 24 hours a day. They’re wonderful about warning you, if you’re in your home.”A tornado siren system is most effective in notifying people who are outdoors, Weidner said.“The best fit for sirens is in places where people are outdoors, in parks, downtown areas, or college campuses,” he said. “I think they are very useful for their intended purpose, not to blanket an entire city or an entire county.” Gallatin officials have discussed the possibility of putting tornado sirens in city parks.Issues like decibel level, when to activate the system, a system’s range and maintenance are part the ongoing discussion into tornado sirens. Placing weather radios into homes and businesses is another kind of severe-weather warning system, Weidner said.“Why not have a weather radio in our homes?” he asked. “It does the same thing. It saves lives from severe weather just like a smoke detector saves people from fires. If everybody had a weather radio in homes or businesses, we would have 40,000-50,000 tornado sirens in the county.”Tennessean staff writer Lacey Lyons and staff writer Jennifer Easton contributed information to this report.

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