Officials clarify emergency notification siren systems
The various waves of tornado watches and warnings that went through the area recently have caused a number of emergency siren activations in Putnam County.
Between testing, maintenance and actual events, some confusion remains among residents about exactly what the sirens mean, as well as the telephone emergency notification system.
Putnam County 911 director Dave Costin and emergency management director Kim Hyten offered some clarification on how the systems work and why they are activated.
"We need to note that if you get a siren notification it means for you to do two things: Seek shelter and monitor the media (TV, radio, internet) for further bulletins and updates," Costin said.
Dispatch does not send out all-clear notifications, as it only creates confusion, Costin said.
"Sirens can be used for other reasons as well as severe weather, but it still only means for you to do the two things above. For example, we can activate sirens for a specific community, say, if we have a hazardous materials release from a tanker accident," Costin said.
Sirens are activated countywide under the following guidelines:
* The National Weather Service has declared a tornado warning for Putnam County.
* The sheriff or county EMA director request they be activated.
* A recognized severe weather spotter or public safety responder has sighted a tornado. Under this circumstance, dispatch may only activate sirens for a specific community or area of the county.
Additionally, sirens can be activated individually for a community or area by a local fire chief or town marshal for either severe weather or other purposes.
"If you hear sirens more than once say within a 30-minute span, what has likely happened is that the NWS has declared a tornado warning and then a spotter has actually seen a tornado in your area," Costin said.
Hyten added that the EMA has divided the county into thirds, with U.S. 36 and U.S. 40 providing the dividing lines. Based on these boundaries, sirens can be set off for the specific regions of the county.
This system also has its limitations.
"What concerns me is, say the storm is running along 36, if we set the north third off, it wouldn't go off for Bainbridge because its siren is south of 36," Hyten said.
In addition to the sirens, emergency notification system (dial-up system) can be used for many reasons besides severe weather and can be narrowed down to specific neighborhoods (for example, it can be used for fugitives at large, missing children or elderly, etc.). At best, it takes about 30 minutes to call every landline phone in Putnam County and registered cell phone.
"Cell phone texts and email are instantaneous and we recommend this method for quick notification," Costin said.
Residents may register their cell phones or emails at www.hyper-reach.com/putnamsignup.html.
Costin also add-ressed the concerns some have expressed about the notification on their caller ID coming in as a New York number.
"We are working on the caller ID you see so that it will say Putnam County, but at the moment these calls come from New York and that is what you will see on your caller ID," he said.
Another concern both men talked about was notifications and sirens in the middle of the night.
"We usually activate the ENS for severe weather when we see tornado warnings being issued for the counties to the west of us. We state in the notification that it is effective for several hours and for citizens to be attentive to changing circumstances and to the media," Costin said.
"We think twice about it before we do it, but have in the past activated the system during the early morning hours. If we have the opportunity to do an ENS before it gets too late, we will, before we will in the very late evening or early morning hours."
Hyten said if the early morning calls are worth it if it saves lives.
"If it upsets you, I apologize," he said. "But if it's warning you of something, at least it's a good inconvenience."