MURRAY — In late March, the major city of Nashville,Tennessee faced a situation with which it was all too familiar.
A little more than a year removed from enduring a crippling shot from a monster tornado that ripped through the downtown area, Nashville residents were diving for cover again. A tornado warning had been issued and memories of the twister that eventually took 25 lives that fateful night in 2020 were running hot.
But there was a problem. Many of the city’s sirens failed to make a sound, leaving many to think they had been left unprotected.
However, while sirens are very strong indicators that action is needed, for many years, weather officials, as well as emergency management officials, throughout the country have preached that sirens should not be the primary mode of receiving warnings.
“Those are not intended for notifying people who are indoors. Their primary purpose, actually, is for reaching people who are outdoors at the time,” said Calloway County Director of Emergency Management Chesley Thomas, reinforcing the long-expressed idea that at least two ways of receiving warnings are recommended, and sirens are not among them.
“At the top of the list, of course, is a NOAA weather radio and the good thing about having one of those is they can also operate on batteries. That way, in case your power goes out, you still can receive information from that radio. You also have your local media broadcasts …TV, radio .. so a little portable or transistor radio can give you that, and, again, those can be battery powered.
“You also have your social media (particularly the National Weather Service Office in Paducah) and many of those you can access with an app on your cellphone. You’ve got to make sure those devices are charged.”
Thomas also heavily promoted the CodeRED alert system that is available on the Calloway County government website — www.callowaycounty-ky.gov. This is free and an app can be downloaded for use on a cellphone or computer that is also free of charge.
Anyone who subscribes to CodeRED can receive alerts on email and cellphones, as well as land lines.
News reports indicate that 18 of the sirens did not sound the first time the Nashville Office of Emergency attempted to activate them after a tornado warning was issued for Davidson County at 8:15 p.m. March 25. A second attempt resulted in three of the 18 making sounds.
This came after the entire Davidson County system was upgraded during the summer.
Meanwhile, in Calloway County, the siren system in Murray and Hazel is a few weeks removed from a test that Thomas said resulted in every siren working properly. It is not known why the sirens in Nashville failed, but Thomas was quick to note that, while Calloway’s test went well, there are no guarantees that will be the case if they have to be put into use for real.
And severe weather is possible later this week in western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee.
“Now, I’m not saying that sirens can’t be heard indoors,” Thomas said. “If you live near one of those, it can be very effective and get your attention quick. That’s good too.
“But not everybody is going to hear them. Where I live (in the north part of Murray), if I’m outside, I not only can hear the siren that’s at Riviera (Mobile Home Park), but I can hear the system going off at Murray State and can hear every word of the announcements with ease. However, if I go inside, I can’t hear either of them. That’s why we say don’t have the siren be your primary way of receiving a warning.
“I hope those folks in Nashville weren’t doing that, especially after having one literally go right through them last year.”
Thomas also said that his office is in the research stage of developing a plan to place more sirens in the county and he said areas receiving particular attention in these discussions are recreation areas along Kentucky Lake. These would include places with resorts, campgrounds, as well as boating establishments.
“And the reason we’re looking at that is the same thing we talk about with sirens, they’re outdoor related,” he said, adding that the process is only in its beginning stages. “And it depends on the thing that these kinds of things always depend on, finding the money, but we think we may have a few ideas on that.”
He said other areas of the county are also being evaluated as a possible siren locations too.