Ark. County Plans to Augment Tornado Sirens With Phones

April 13, 2006

What sirens might not be able to do – because they’re not working, or it’s hard to hear them inside a house with the air-conditioning and television set running – officials in Independence County, Ark., hope can be accomplished with some neighborliness.

With a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, Glen Willis, coordinator of the Independence County Office of Emergency Management, is establishing a “Call Partnership” program within the county.

He said the program is intended to “enhance the other warning system we already have – 24 tornado sirens in the county,” Willis said.

The problem with the sirens is apparently twofold.

“Sometimes the sirens don’t work – it all depends on the weather,” Willis said.

And County Judge Bill Hicks said “our society has changed. The theory was when those sirens were bought about 10 years ago that people were still sitting on their porches.

“That’s not true anymore. Houses are now more insulated, more people have air conditioning, they are too busy to sit outside and you just can’t hear the sirens go off.”

In the Call Partnership program, people interested in becoming a “call partner” will be issued a county-owned National Oceanic Atmospheric Association severe weather radio in exchange for agreeing to call a given number of households within their community, Willis said.

The calls will be made whenever the National Weather Service issues a watch or warning for Independence County.

“Each fire department within the county’s fire districts is working on the caller list and will receive so many radios,” Willis said.

For example, the Pleasant Plains fire district includes about 875 to 900 people, Willis said. By providing radios to about 35 households, he said, the community should have ample weather-warning coverage.

He said each fire department would determine how many households get the radios and how many people each person would call.

“Twenty-five people could call 25 people, or five people could call five people,” Willis added. “It would be up to the individual fire departments.”

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