Like clockwork on the first Wednesday of every month, the Elmore County Emergency Management Agency tests its outdoor weather sirens to ensure they’re working properly, and last week was no different.
Beginning around 8 a.m. each week, EMA program coordinator Julie Lawrence begins making her way down a contact list of 33 county residents asking them to listen out for the siren in their area.
She also notifies every police and fire department in the county, letting them know to keep their ears open for the sound of the siren nearest to them.
“We rely on residents in the county and our law enforcement officers and fire fighters to listen out for the sirens and let us know if they are working,” EMA director Keith Barnett said. “People call in and let us know if the siren near them worked. There are some that don’t go off and we have to have them fixed.”
Sometimes there are glitches in the process, but Barnett said that’s the purpose of the monthly tests.
“If there are any glitches, we need to get them worked out now, prior to an actual emergency event,” he said.
There are 63 sirens located throughout eight zones in county, Barnett said. Each municipality is responsible the maintenance of the sirens in their jurisdiction and the Elmore County Commission maintains 31 sirens in unincorporated parts of the county.
And, according to Barnett, maintaining sirens is an expensive task. The county maintains a roughly $16,000 maintenance contract to help ensure the sirens will work when needed.
The county also pays an electricity bill of $15 to $30 per month for each siren and has to replace their batteries often, which can get pricy. The sirens have backup batteries to maintain functionality during a power outage.
Although weather sirens are comforting to have, Barnett said they are outdated and unreliable technology. Sirens only have a 1-mile radius and are not designed to be heard indoors.
“Don’t rely on this to wake you up inside of your home,” EMA deputy director David Brunson said.
Brunson said sirens are meant to notify people who are outside to seek shelter. Barnett said the sirens are needed more at places like Camp Chandler and Lakes Jordan and Martin.
In highly residential areas, Brunson and Barnett said having a weather radio is the best way to stay informed during severe weather. Another option is to install a weather app onto your mobile device.
Barnett recommends the NOAA weather radio and the Alabama SAF-T-Net app for mobile devices. The EMA also sends alerts via the Elmore County, AL EMA app.