OUTDOOR WARNING SIRENS: What are they and why are they activated?

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Black Hawk County, Iowa (KWWL) – While we haven’t had an active Spring just yet, severe weather season is upon us.

Many of us hear sirens during a storm. But what are they and why are they activated?

We spoke with Lorie Glover with Black Hawk County Emergency Management to find out.

THE HISTORY

Outdoor warning sirens were first used in the 1960s as a form of civil defense. Counties would activate sirens to alert the public of dangers during the Cold War, such as bombings. Today, the use of outdoor sirens has evolved from civil defense to emergency management.

SEVERE WEATHER

When severe weather strikes, your county has emergency management in place, beginning with a loud sound, better known as an outdoor warning siren.

“Outdoor warning sirens are used to warn the public who are outside of an approaching storm,” Glover said.

Each county activates their sirens for different reasons.

However, in Black Hawk County, sirens go off for:

  • A tornado warning
  • A severe thunderstorm with 70+ mph wind or golf ball size hail or larger

Glover said two groups can activate sirens:

  • Emergency Management with help from the National Weather Service
  • 911 Dispatch Center

CAN EVERYONE HEAR OUTDOOR WARNING SIRENS?

Black Hawk County has 48 outdoor warning sirens. Emergency Management stresses the sirens are designed to be heard outside only.

‘If you’re able to hear [the sirens] inside, good for you, I mean, there are some homes that are right near the sirens and can hear them,” Glover said. “But the intent, again, is for people outdoors to go indoors.”

If you live in a rural area, the sirens may be faint. They only sound for one minute during severe weather. There is no “all-clear” siren once a storm passes. That’s why Emergency Management said it’s important to have multiple ways to get alerts during severe weather. You can download our Storm Track 7 app, turn on your tv, or turn on your radio.

“The sirens are our last means of our defense, not our first means, so again, being prepared, knowing how you get your information, and being ready for [a storm] is a good thing,” Glover explained.

MORE INFORMATION

Counties tests their outdoor warning sirens each month to make sure they’re working properly. Black Hawk County tests their sirens the first Wednesday of every month at 11 a.m., unless there’s disruptive weather is in the forecast.

If you’d like to sign up for severe weather alerts in your county, visit: https://www.homelandsecurity.iowa.gov/about_HSEMD/alert_iowa.html

Olivia Schmitt

Olivia Schmitt

Morning Reporter at KWWL
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