Would You Favor a Change in Linn County’s Tornado Siren Policy?
Last Wednesday night, multiple tornadoes struck northern Linn County but what I heard in Cedar Rapids made me stop and wonder. The tornado sirens went off all over the city, despite there being no severe weather in the immediate area. It got me wondering what the policy was for our tornado sirens, so I went straight to the source.
I spoke with Mike Goldberg, Linn County's Emergency Management Director. I asked him if when there's a tornado anywhere in the county, is the policy that the outdoor sirens sound everywhere. The answer wasn't a simple one. Turns out, there isn't really a "policy," because right now Linn County's system can only sound across the whole county. However, that could be changing.
Goldberg explained that there are currently 109 sirens in Linn County as part of Duane Arnold's Energy System, which includes a total of 144. He said that, for the most part, those outdoor warning sirens extend from Highway 30 north to Center Point to Central City and down Highway 13.
As you've probably noticed, a number of years ago the National Weather Service began to issue warnings of all types for only parts of counties... in some instances, anyway. It turns out, the National Weather Service system is ahead of the one that warns residents that something threatening is on their doorstep. However, according to Goldberg, it's possible that quadrant-like warnings COULD be coming to Linn County's outdoor warning system. He told me the county has been working on making that a possibility for the last eight years. He hopes that in about six months, it will be ready. However, even when it is, nothing may change.
Goldberg says that in order to change to sounding sirens only for portions of the county that are involved in a warning, the Linn County Emergency Management Commission would have to approve the change. The commission includes the mayors of each Linn County town, a member of the Board of Supervisors, and the Linn County Sheriff. When I called Goldberg, I believed that sounding sirens only in areas where a warning was in effect was the way to go. However, while talking to him, I realized this decision isn't as easy as it seems.
My concern has been that if warning sirens sound too often when we're not necessarily threatened, we might become complacent. Goldberg admitted that can be a concern but he said some other things that also stuck with me. He reminded me the purpose of the sirens is for people to go inside and see what's going on. He also reminded me that sometimes weather can do very unpredictable things. Storms can develop right on top of us and perhaps not even allow for a warning so warning that dangerous weather is nearby could help. It's all left me thinking this current system might not be so bad after all... sometimes the newest bells and whistles aren't all they're cracked up to be. One thing I'll readily admit, those sirens ALWAYS get my attention.
What do you think should happen? When everything is finally ready, should Linn County switch to quadrant-based siren warnings, when warranted? Or... should we stay the course and blow them county-wide?