How reliable are Okla. tornado sirens?


WOODWARD, Okla. — Woodward residents only got a few minutes warning from their tornado sirens before the twister hit just after midnight Sunday morning.

At least one of the sirens there did not sound because it was hit by lightning.

We went to Oklahoma City emergency management officials to see what backups they have in place for their tornado sirens.

A big difference between Oklahoma City’s tornado sirens and Woodward’s tornado sirens is how they’re powered.

Woodward’s are powered by electricity, so when power was knocked out, that may have affected some warnings.

Oklahoma City’s are powered by batteries.

Oklahoma City emergency manager, Frank Barnes, said he’s not aware of a time in Oklahoma City when any of their 182 sirens have failed.

He said there are measures in place to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“The city of Oklahoma City outdoor warning system uses batteries. If there’s a power failure, they will still operate because they are powered by batteries,” Barnes said.

The electrical lines you can see going to sirens are to keep the batteries charged.

Those batteries are designed to last up to two weeks without power.

Oklahoma City’s sirens are activated with a controller using radio signals.

“We have two controllers in two different locations and both locations are in structures that meet FEMA guidelines to withstand the impact of a tornado,” Barnes said.

Sirens are tested audibly every Saturday at noon, but there are also silent tests once or twice a week.

“This past week, since we knew the storms were coming, we were testing the system and making repairs so that the system was at 100 percent prior,” Barnes said.

It is important to note, though, that tornado sirens were not made to penetrate the walls of buildings.

Barnes said that’s just not technologically feasible.

That’s why emergency managers stress personal responsibility and say you should have other systems in place like a weather radio or a notification system on your cell phone like Channel 4’s free app, 4 Warn Me.