By Xiomara Levsen
How does the county know when to sound the outdoor sirens and for how long was discussed at a meeting with the Muscatine County Emergency Management Coordinator Chris Jasper Tuesday, May 27, at the West Liberty Community Center.
The idea for this meeting came to the Emergency Management Commission (EMC) after West Liberty Mayor Ethan Anderson said the city received t received phone calls asking questions about this.
“Outdoor warning sirens – this is a huge topic of debate in the county,” Jasper said.
Dispatch sets off all the warning sirens in the county based on information they receive from the National Weather Service, he said.
The sirens are only set off when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning in Muscatine County or when law enforcement or fire department reports seeing a tornado during weather spotting, Jasper said.
“Or there’s a severe thunderstorm warning with 70 mile an hour winds or golf ball (size) or larger hail,” Jasper added.
The siren system is countywide so if there is a warning for the City of Muscatine then all the sirens will be activated in the county, he added.
Studies were done by NWS and the Federal Emergency Management Agency that found more damage is done with golf ball size hail and straight line winds over 70 miles per hour than with a tornado, Jasper said. This was the suggested guidance for when to use the outdoor warning system.
“The emergency management commission met and decided to adopt this policy for the county,” he added. “That’s another question I get asked all the time. Why don’t they just go off for tornadoes?”
Cliff McFerren attended the meeting. He is the administrator for Simpson Memorial Home in West Liberty. He asked Jasper if the sirens would sound the same the whole time they were going off. Jasper said this yes.
The outdoor sirens are for the outdoors only.
“They are not meant to be heard inside a house, inside a business,” Jasper said. “If people are complaining or giving feedback that they can’t be heard inside their house well that’s not what they’re designed for.”
If people are outdoors and hear the sirens Jasper said this means they should move indoors and listen to their weather radio or turn on their T.V.
The sirens will go off in three-minute cycles, he added. If the warning is extended then they could go off again.
“There is no all clear,” Jasper said. “If the sirens go off a second or third time that means there is some update the weather service gave.”
McFerren said this would be confused with an all-clear siren people think the county does.
“You’re right but I’ve worked for the county for 13 years and right when I started they got rid of the all clear (siren),” Jasper replied. “It’s still in people’s head that we have an all clear (siren).”
Muscatine County Supervisor Kirk Kirchner said he always thought there was an all-clear siren.
“Because we expect or hope that once the siren goes off you’re going indoors, and you’re going to tune into local media, your weather radio or whatever to get updated information for when the storm warning expires.”
West Liberty Police Chief Eric Warner asked Jasper if the outdoor weather sirens sounds were different depending on whether it was a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning.
Jasper replied no.
“It is one tone,” he added. “They are only capable of producing one tone and that’s a siren. It sounds different based on the way the winds blowing because on the inside of those big horns it’s circulating causing it to go out in different directions.”
The locations of the outdoor weather sirens in Muscatine County can be found on the Emergency Management page.