Pine Belt officials explain what triggers a weather siren

NOAA weather radio produced by Midland.
NOAA weather radio produced by Midland.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - When your counties siren system is sounded, what exactly does it mean? That's not as easy of a question as it seems.

The siren warning systems are managed by each counties Emergency Operations Center, which has full authority on when, or when not, to activate the sirens for a severe weather event.

"That creates a little bit of difficulty between how we issue our warnings, which is in a defined area. In other words, it's not always for the entire county. Maybe for part of the county. And some counties, cities, will follow that exact guidance that we are giving, and only sound the sirens in that are. While others will sound it for the entire county," said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Steve Wilkinson.

Officials have found that activating the sirens only for tornado warnings, has reduced false alarms, and decreased resident complacency.

"We had to actually change our policy mid-stream. We were initially activating if we were under a severe thunderstorm watch and then a warning come out. That means conditions were even more favorable for development. So, we went ahead and activated the sirens then," said Lamar County EMA Director, James Smith. "But one thing we found out is we got to crying wolf too many times. So, we said we got to back off that. And so we just started issuing them for tornado warnings now."

This is the stance many Pine Belt counties have on the issue. One exception is Pearl River County, where sirens are activated for both tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. No matter the policy, each county stressed the fact that the siren warning systems are not something families should rely on.

"Sirens are an outdoor warning device. That's one of many tools that should be used. But the odds of you hearing a siren about a more than a half mile away, particularly upwind, is pretty slim. Particularly If your in a modern home, and have a lot of noise going in," warns Forrest County EMA Director, Terry Steed.

It's for this reason that officials from across the state all stressed the importance of purchasing a NOAA weather radio. New advancements in weather radio technology allows users to specify the particular area they wish to receive alerts, and notifies residents near instantaneously.

"NOAA weather radio is not fun to listen to, it's not exciting. Yet, if you've got it on and set it to alert, it's that initial notification. Within 20 to 30 seconds, it's going to alert people after we hit the button here at the office. So, it's very fast and it gets out there quickly," said Wilkinson.

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