Occasionally, as I conduct research for new blog posts, I encounter articles that truly surprise me. And today is one of those days. According to an April 2017 article in the Fayetteville Observer, a newspaper in North Carolina, the Cape Fear region of the state does not have tornado sirens, despite the fact that North Carolina ranks in the top 10 states for deadly tornados. Um, huh?
Explanations for the Lack of Tornado Sirens
The rationale for not having tornado sirens is that they are designed to “alert people out in the open…[but] these days most people spend more time indoors shielded from blaring horns.” Despite this odd explanation, most fire companies in the area have outdoor sirens that are utilized regularly – 465 in the past year according to one of the town’s fire chiefs.
Other reasons provided include the fact that sirens, although attention getting, do not have any way to indicate the specific nature of the problem. They can also be rendered ineffective by power failures, and can be hacked. A better approach, according to experts cited in the article, is a system of digital alerts by phone or radio.
Sorry, I am not buying it. Sure, digital alerts are helpful but why not provide a secondary audio alert for people that may not be sitting by their phone or radio at that particular time? I think the real reason is that funds were never allocated to build a system of tornado sirens, as the estimated cost to build the system from the ground up is $30,000 per siren. In other words, it is not considered a worthy expenditure of the region’s budget dollars. It’s a shame really, not only because it complicates the emergency planning efforts of the local utilities, but also because the lack of tornado sirens could literally cost lives. I wonder if that has been quantified as part of the budget.