04/21/11 206 W, 1 I - + 1 - 5 North Carolina Doesn't Have Tornado Sirens

No surprise there, given that we're a coastal state instead of somewhere on the plains. We had 'em in Minnesota, and Yours Truly remembers those rare but scary/exciting occasions when a warbling siren suggested it was a good time to ride your bicycle back home. WTVD is reporting on this issue. Key quote: "The short answer is that we don't have enough tornadoes to justify having sirens," said Patty McQuillan, NC Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Observe the professionalism in Ms. McQuillan's response and the absence of the word duh.

Kidding aside, wonder how much of the old Civil Defense warning system infrastructure remains? For that matter, how far and wide were Civil Defense sirens installed? Just in larger towns and cities? And all those rural fire departments that used Civil Defense-issued or surplus equipment, were they tied into any sort of regional or statewide network? (And for our friends down at the ECC, any legacy equipment still connected to national networks down there? There used to be a console with maybe a red phone from Washington? Memory's hazy from my short stint down there two decades ago.)

We still have a hotline that connects us statewide/nationally, which was originally designed to warn us that “the Russians are coming.” The issue of public notification is tricky. Sirens are expensive to maintain and install, and you need a lot of them to achieve good coverage. Even with that, if people are indoors or in their cars with the audio system cranked up, will they even hear the warning? After all, when you can’t get the driver in front of you to acknowledge the Federal Q and pair of Grover Stuttertones plastered to their back bumper, what attention will they pay to a pole mounted device ten miles away?

Sirens are also dumb. They don’t tell you anything specific or provide instruction. Still, we have sirens in Wake for other concerns such as dams and nuclear plants. I am told that back in the day, ECC had an “all call” button that could sound every fire station siren simultaneously, but this is long gone (as are many of the sirens.) Systems such as reverse notification are effective only for wire line telephone customers, can take a little time to notify a large group, and are sometimes dependent upon outdated databases. Cable TV interrupts or crawler messages again only serve people who have power and are watching the tube at the time.

There is much promise from a currently under development technology that would allow messages to be simultaneously broadcast to all wireless users within range of selected towers. This has the benefit of being very geographically specific, meaning that it is a good tool to use even with hazmat evacuations where you don’t need to notify anyone outside of a clearly defined area. It will also hit the majority of telephone customers – even those who are passing through the area. Combined with Reverse 9-1-1 this would hit a majority of the population, but again not necessarily those using VoIP phones. When it comes to alerting, no single solution is perfect, and as consumer electronic technology develops we will find even more challenges.
RWECC - 04/21/11 - 09:34

Mike, we still have ours here in the east and it works. We have Fire, Alert, and Attack sounds. All of the original Civil Defense stuff is still in working condition. Even have an extra one if anyone is into that type of nostalgia. County Comm can only activate the “Fire” siren with the Motorola paging tones. All of the other alerts have to be activated manually.
Chris Murray (Email) - 04/21/11 - 19:19

This subject seems to pop up whenever we have a storm in NC, and I suspect it is usually from the non-native NC people. Excluding dam and nuclear power plant warning areas, sirens sounding in most of NC mean “there is a fire alarm”. Sirens are still a tool in the toolbox, and we still use one in my town as part of the fire alarm alert, but there are so many more options now than when sirens were the primary warning means. There are the NOAA Weather Radio alerts that are activated and weather alert radios are a better option than sirens for reaching people with specific information. Supplementing weather radios, there are the numerous automated weather alerts to pagers, computers, Blackberries, etc. Our 911 communications center always broadcasts weather warnings on radio channels, and these are heard by scanner listeners, as well as emergency services. These days, people are often in air conditioned buildings and cars, insulated from outside sounds and sirens at some distance away; as the other poster mentioned, motorists often won’t even move for a “Q” siren on their bumper—anyone who has ever driven a fire engine or ambulance can verify this.
dlh - 04/22/11 - 11:13

While the state doesn’t have anything official, those who live or happened to be in proximity to any part of NCSU campus heard their siren/alarm and a warning message. I could hear the one from Carter Finely Stadium and the NCSU Vet school, a series of loud beeps/sirens, followed by the message “A tornado warning is in effect. Seek Shelter Immediately” That was the first time I’ve ever heard that and it made my heart skip a beat almost because it made the situation even more real then we had thought at the time. This alert was about 15-20 minutes before it got really bad in our area
Near NCSU - 04/22/11 - 20:54

Looks like the mainstream media finally caught up with you, since there’s a story in the N&O today regarding this:
Paul - 04/27/11 - 09:17

In response to “Near NCSU”, I just received a text message alert from AlertCarolina (a similar system in place at UNC) that just alerted me to today’s tornado watch in effect for most of NC. AlertCarolina has never given out warnings for wx in the past; this is the first time. This change is undoubtedly in response to the tornadoes of 4/16.
Wallace - 04/27/11 - 13:49

Selma Fire Dept turned their old fire siren into a tornado siren several years ago.
Zack A - 04/27/11 - 15:33

Correction Zack, the old fire and rescue siren. They used to set it off for rescue calls, too. The ‘up and down’ tone was for fire calls, the ‘hi-lo’ tone that most communities used for fire calls was the ‘rescue’ tone. When I worked there they used it for second duty rescue calls, plus if I was the paramedic waiting on my volunteer to show up, sometimes I would call over to PD and have them set it off. I am sure th neighbors loved it!
DJ - 04/27/11 - 16:11

Thanks I did not know that. I do however remember the first time it went off as a “tornado siren”. I was working at JC911 and got several calls because people did know what it was and what to do. I know Benson Rescue use to have the hi-low for Rescue calls, standard up and down for fire. I remember when we cut ours in Micro back on (2009) for fire calls…The guy next door threaten to shoot it down!
Zack A - 04/27/11 - 16:40

From WLOS in Asheville, NC:

When a tornado approached Asheville in the past… people could expect a loud siren to warn them of the danger. But only a few of those horns remain. The sirens were installed in the 1960’s as part of the Civil Defense warning system. In the 1970’s, after the threat of a nuclear war with Russia faded, these horns were used to blast a loud wail similar to the air raid sirens you hear in World War Two movies. One remains on top of the Flatiorn Building in downtown Asheville. But Emergency Services officials say modern technology has replaced the need for them.

My question is what modern technology?
Wallace (Email) - 04/28/11 - 07:58

Hey people i’m only 33yrs young, born and raised in Fay, NC. Correct me if i’m wrong but when i was much younger i could distinctly remember hearing sirens when there was severe weather approaching the area. At the time i lived in the yadkin rd. santa fe dr. area. maybe it was an air raid siren i’ll never know but thank God someone is listening!!!
shandaM. - 05/03/11 - 00:03

Rockingham county had all their fire sirens upgraded and installed additional sirens for weather after the 1997 Stoneville tornado. Although not a true tornado siren system, it is the only tornado siren system in NC (aside from colleges and individual sirens)
Jason - 06/14/11 - 11:56

Hey Thanks For The Info.. I Was Looking Up Sounds… Then Came Across The Old Air Raid Siren. Then Me Being The Smart Person That I Am Got To Remembering The Time They Took The Sirens Off Of Our Asheville Buildings…. Can’t Remember Which Building It Was But I Sure Can Remember When They Said They Were Gonna Take Them Off. Something But It Would Be Better Just To Take Them Down Than To Replace Them With Better Technology! ( Thanks Fer Listening, It’s pooring Down Rain Right Now So My Computer’s Messing Up) Thanks For Everything !!!JJ
Jason Jennings - 08/19/13 - 07:44

Remember personal info?

/ Textile

Comment moderation is enabled on this site. This means that your comment will not be visible on this site until it has been approved by an editor.

To prevent spam we require you to answer this silly question

  (Register your username / Log in)

Hide email:

Small print: All html tags except <b> and <i> will be removed from your comment. You can make links by just typing the url or mail-address.