Storm warnings: A closer look at the possibility of failure

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Officials in Greene County say their emergency alert system isn't likely to fail, but it's always a possibility.

According to Shelly Hood with the Greene County Office of Emergency Management, the county warns residents of Paragould and Marmaduke of tornadic activity by sounding tornado sirens; however, other small towns in the county aren't as lucky.

"There is potential for the city of Paragould to have a tornado to come through, then that is set off by the city," said Hood. "I think they (small towns) had a little bit of problems, so they are trying to get online also. We're just talking the city limits of these smaller towns, not the county."

Over the weekend, officials in Benton County in northwest Arkansas found that emergency phone calls were not made to alert public officials of an approaching tornado. According to the Benton County OEM director, the calls were not made due to a setting that was switched off.

Hood said Greene County has looked at a similar system, but the county didn't have the funding to purchase it.

"They had a company that they were contracted with that whenever the warnings come out for their town, that they would send emails and also text messages and they were supposed to have phone calls," said Hood. "The phone calls had gotten shut off, so some of the key personnel that needed to be contacted at that time did not get contacted."

Hood said a failure like that would make her upset.

"Our job being an emergency manager is to make sure the citizens are safe and when something fails like that, you feel like you did not help the citizens," said Hood.

Hood said she has her cell phone set up to where she can receive alerts straight from the National Weather Service. Many storm spotters, she said, have text message alerts set up on their phones and update storm situations through social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"I have mine set at Lafe, so whenever something gets closer to Lafe, then my text message will go off on that," said Hood.

Hood said another problem she's noticed over the last few years is that many people who purchase weather radios don't use them any longer.

"People will go out and buy the weather radios. When it sits in your drawer for a year, your batteries go down. You just don't turn it on anymore, so whenever you purchase something like that, it's not just a six month or year thing. That's something you have to maintain and keep up," said Hood. "When you have a warning that's posted in your area, it'll give you a loud screeching noise."

"Don't just rely on a siren. I mean, just keep an eye on the weather," said Hood. "We also have people on the ground that are our eyes. The sheriff's office usually has all their deputies out. They're watching, so we have radio contact with all of them. They're on their radios. Some of them are out there on the ground. Some of them stay in their area. Some go all over the county, so we got a range of different people according to what we need and where they're needed at."

Chris Wilcox has been a storm spotter for 11 years. He said he's experienced an EF-4 tornado in Kansas and witnessed the devastation first hand.

"We'll set up positions and we'll look from different point of views. Just because it gets dark, you don't quit tracking it. You still got to track them. You're watching out for your community," said Wilcox. "Anything can fail. It's human nature. We can all fail, but we're actually live human beings out there watching it, not a computer module. It takes both entities working together to make it work and work right."

Hood said the worst case scenario is that a tornado hits some part of Paragould and the tornado siren fails. She said crews maintain and check all sirens at least once a week.

"That is good to rely on and know that we have that, but also keep on edge when bad weather is coming in. I mean, KAIT is broadcasting it all the time. You know, hey we got this coming in two or three days. Just keep in touch," said Hood. "When a siren goes off, that means it's there and it's coming. You're talking ten maybe 15 minute leeway, if even that."

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