Jonesboro E911 director: Tornado sirens will not become obsolete

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Jonesboro E911 Director Jeff Presley tested the city's tornado sirens Thursday for the first time since last week's storm.

Presley said there was no damage to the system. Every siren worked.

The National Weather Service did not issue a tornado warning last week during the high wind storm, but Presley set off the sirens twice, based on damage reports coming in.

Presley said his department also received reports from residents not being able to hear the sirens. He found the main problem was people were inside.

"This is an outdoor warning device," Presley said. "A lot of folks will call and say, 'I can't hear it in my house.' But it's designed for outdoors. It's a safety device. You don't have to have that tornado, but if you hear them going off, and it's not a Thursday at noon with the sun shining, get in a safe spot."

Presley wants the public to take these sirens seriously. He said the department only sets them off if there is real, potential danger to residents' safety. 

"If we're getting reports in that there could be windows blown out, tress falling over, things like that, we're going to set those sirens off," Presley said.

Presley said if residents are outside and cannot hear the sirens, call Jonesboro E911 at 933-4502 and he will go out and test them.

"You have to keep the system up and running," Presley said. "That's our job to take care of the public."

However, Presley said taking care of the public comes with a hefty price tag. The city has 33 sirens, each costing about $6,000. It then costs about $30,000 every year to maintain them.

"It [the cost] really is worth it," Presley said. "If we can save that one child, save that one life, it's worth it. You may not hear that siren, other than testing a couple times a year, but if you look at it from a big picture, it's saving lives, it's taking care of the public, it's well worth the money."

Presley said individuals can also protect themselves. He said Jonesboro residents should pay attention to indoor tornado alerts: listen to weather radios and check social media. 

"There's a lot of information out there that can keep you ahead of that storm," Presley said.

Presley also urges families to have a safe spot in mind for before and after a storm.

"You take an event like that Thursday and it shows the importance of having a family safe plan, teaching your children where to go," Presley said. "If you can't reach 911, we can't dispatch, know where you're going for a safe spot, have your family meet up there because it may be awhile before emergency services can get to you."

Presley said tornado sirens will not become obsolete in Jonesboro.

"I don't think they will," Presley said. "I think it's a good outdoor warning device. When you hear that siren, you know something's up."

Presley will meet Friday with Mayor Harold Perrin and fire and police departments for a debriefing on how they handled last week's storm and ways to improve.

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