Officials: Current siren setup is most effectiveMitchell alarm only sounds for tornadoes after some changes over the years.
By: Marcus Traxler, The Daily Republic
To siren, or not to siren?
That is the question for some when it comes to severe weather in Mitchell and Davison County but local leaders are set on keeping the policy where it is.
Currently, the emergency siren system will only go off when there is a tornado warning called for a specific portion of Davison County, removing some of the discretion from an important public safety decision.
“We don’t want people just thinking that we’re crying wolf. At least now when the sirens sound, people respond,” said Jim Montgomery, director of emergency management for Davison County.
Before 2000, the county only sounded the sirens for tornado warnings and that remained the case until Aug. 5 of that year, when high winds — referred to as a “microburst” — caused significant injuries and damage to the south side of Mitchell.
After that storm, the policy was changed by Davison County Commission to have the sirens sound for severe thunderstorm warnings, in addition to tornado warnings. That setup led to the sirens — in the opinion of some residents — being overused and in 2006, the policy was changed back to only blare them in a tornado warning situation.
In this case, less is more, officials determined.
“Most people have been supportive of doing it during tornado warnings only. They felt that it was going off way too much and to the point where people were just ignoring it,” said Mitchell Public Safety Chief Lyndon Overweg.
The change in policy led to the sirens becoming more specific in the areas where they go off, so storms destined for Loomis would not sound the sirens in Ethan, for example.
During the hail-carrying storm on May 5, the sirens did not sound before the storm hit and delivered hail ranging in size from pebbles to golf-ball sized. Several million dollars in damage to buildings and vehicles were caused, but no one was seriously injured.
When the weather hit, the area was not in a tornado warning, so the policy dictated that the sirens stay silent.
Montgomery said he’s not sure if the sirens should have sounded or if they would have made any difference.
“I don’t know what the right answer is,” he said. “We have the spotters out and we knew that bad weather was out there but the hail came so quickly.”
Policy leaders do agree that the system is working. Complaints about the system are down and the plan is clear, even if the weather outside is not. Any decision to change the current setup lies with the county commissioners and the city councils of the affected areas, according to Overweg.
The siren system remains intended for those who are outside when the storm is on its way and not for those indoors. Mitchell City Councilman Jeff Smith said people have AM/FM radios, weather radios, as well as other warning systems through increased technology today, they make an effort to know what is going on.
“You’ll never have a policy that everyone will always agree with but this is one everyone understands,” Smith said.