Weather siren tests begin sooner in ‘09Governor Jim Doyle declared April 20-24 as Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin. River Falls usually tests its weather-warning sirens that week but will conduct the first test nearly a month before.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Governor Jim Doyle declared April 20-24 as Tornado and Severe Weather Awareness Week in Wisconsin. River Falls usually tests its weather-warning sirens that week but will conduct the first test nearly a month before.
Police Chief Roger Leque, who manages upkeep/testing of the city’s weather-siren warning system, said, “One of the reasons this year we decided to start this test schedule in March is to determine sooner if we have any problems.”
River Falls has seven warning sirens. All sit on poles.
A map on the city’s website shows the locations of each: Johnson and Main; Division and Falls; on Ninth near Hazel; St. Croix and Summit; on Wasson near Cemetery; on the Hwy. 35 frontage road near Sterling Ponds; and east of the city in a park within the new Highview Meadows housing subdivision.
Leque said batteries power the sirens. Radio receivers activate them. The devices look simple but aren’t.
The chief said it makes sense to check their function well before severe-weather season.
“We check the batteries to make sure they’re charged and functional,” he said, adding that in years past the checks have found trouble in siren circuit boards and electronic components.
In most situations all the sirens sound at once. But Leque said it isn’t unusual for the city to activate one at a time if it’s troubleshooting or fine-tuning a siren.
“If somebody hears that on a nice, bright, sunny day, that’s probably testing,” said Leque.
The chief said it’s up to the city’s discretion when to activate the sirens for a real warning. Officers at the police station have a weather-alert system hooked into the National Weather Service.
They also listen to their radio traffic to see what people out in the field are saying.
Situations that justify activating the weather-warning sirens: Severe thunderstorm warnings, tornado warnings and reports of destructive straight-line winds or damaging hail.
“It’s not just tornados, it’s severe weather in general,” said Leque. “If it has the potential for damage or injury, we’re going to activate them…”
He’s aware that people sometimes become confused by the siren testing. He advises that tests are conducted on clear days.
If a scheduled test day comes up and the weather is bad, the test gets pushed to the next day.
He said the city’s philosophy is to activate the sirens rather than taking the chance they’re not needed. Leque estimates that River Falls activates them about a half-dozen times a year.
He said the sirens serve as a sign that citizens should be aware that severe weather is near and they should monitor conditions closely. He said the wailing is also a reminder to take shelter.
Leque said, “I would encourage citizens to have a plan in place for what they’re going to do as severe weather approaches.”
He mentions that a family should also be prepared to monitor conditions even without electricity, phone, computer or TV. The chief points to links on the PD’s website that take people to preparedness guidelines given by NWS and Wisconsin emergency management.
Leque emphasizes that people should have a plan that includes the family pets and what to do if severe weather hits during a gathering at their home.
Weather-warning siren test dates and times:
No discussion about River Falls’ siren-warning system would be complete without mentioning the noon whistle. Readers vigorously debated the issue last summer via the comments portion of the Journal’s website and in letters to the editor.
Leque said it will continue but now blasts for only seven seconds instead of 30 as before.
He said, “We did add that siren to the weather network,” adding it enhances the overall system.
People can find on the police department’s website, the above test schedule, a map of siren locations and helpful links for emergency preparedness. Go to www.rfcity.org, click on departments, click on police, and click on the Weather Safety tab (to left).