Wednesday, March 11, 2009

TOP STORY >> 911 center in charge of sirens

Leader staff writer

Tornadoes approached Jacksonville twice last year, and once the sirens went off and once they didn’t.

The time the sirens didn’t go off was not a malfunction but a decision by the 911 center staff not to activate the siren.

“We’ve had a lot of questions since that time about how our sirens work,” Brenda Skinner, the director of the city’s 911 center, told city the council last Thursday night.

She briefed the council on how the system works locally.

Jacksonville’s warning system consists of five sirens placed throughout the city and are activated remotely through the center or can be turned on manually.

Mayor Tommy Swaim interjected that there is a major misconception about the sirens.

“A lot of people will call and say they can’t hear the sirens in their homes, but the system is designed to warn those outside to take cover and precautions. Those inside should be listening to a radio or watching television for updated information,” the mayor explained.

Skinner said the decision to activate the sirens is based on information the center receives from the Little Rock Air Force Base weather squadron, the National Weather Service, police and fire department reports and information from radio and television.

She said television information is limited because the 911 center doesn’t have cable or satellite-television operations so it can only get two stations in with any clarity.

Skinner said the system would be activated when the center receives an official tornado warning that shows that Jacksonville is in the projected path of the severe weather.

Once the tornado warning has been issued, Skinner said, sirens will be activated and run for one minute, and will then continue to wail intermittently during the time that the city remains in danger.

Skinner said there is no “all clear” siren or sound. “We simply stop the siren once we are in the clear.”

She added that the system is tested every Wednesday at noon, except during inclement weather, for one minute.

Skinner explained that the main source for determining if the sirens will be activated is the warnings and tornado-path projections received from the weather service.
However, center officials will also use information provided by neighboring cities and funnel cloud sightings by city personnel.

Last year when the sirens went off, it was determined that Jacksonville was in the projected path, but the second time, even though county sirens and Sherwood sirens were sounding, the projected path had the tornado missing Jacksonville, and the decision was made not to activate the sirens, Skinner explained.

The city’s five sirens are located at 4001 S. First St. (Fire Station 4), 1301 Graham Road (Fire Station 2), 2400 Linda Lane (Jacksonville High School) 1412 West Main St. (Police Department) and at the intersection of West Main Street and Harris Road.