Official outlines policies for Cole County storm sirens

Thursday’s storms were a reminder for residents to be ready when severe weather arises.

Cole County authorities said they did not activate warning sirens in the county Thursday even though there were reports of funnel clouds in the air near the northern borders of the county. The funnel clouds did not touch the ground.

“The 911 communications center gets updates from the National Weather Service,” said Cole County Emergency Management Director Bill Farr. “Whenever the weather service puts out a warning, then the sirens are activated. Unless a trained spotter or law officer sees a funnel on the ground, the only time the sirens go off is if the weather service issues a warning.”

When the sirens are set off, you’ll hear a voice saying there is a warning followed by the old siren sound, Farr said. When the warning expires, the siren goes off, and a voice comes on telling you the warning has ended.

Farr also said the sirens are tested the first Thursday of the month at 4 p.m., unless bad weather is occurring at that time. The tests start with a voice message saying this is a test, followed by the Westminster Chimes, and then a voice saying the test is done.

Work on two sirens that had been damaged by storms last October has been taking place the past couple of weeks, and Farr said they should be up and running next week. One siren is located on Missouri 179 by the new Jefferson City Fire Station No. 3 and the other is at the Ike Skelton Training Center off Militia Drive.

Farr reminded residents that the new sirens are designed to be heard outside, not inside buildings.

“When we put these new sirens in we emphasized to residents that they were meant to be heard outside, not inside a home,” he said. “There are many ways for people to get alerts in their home, such as television, radio or weather alert radio.”

When the city and county began the process to install the new sirens, officials advised staying attentive to radio and television coverage when severe weather occurs because the sirens likely won’t be heard by those inside buildings. Officials advised residents to take advantage of phone alert systems being offered by local television stations or to purchase a weather alert radio, which gives weather-related information 24 hours a day.

Nearly two years ago, city officials discussed plans for an emergency mass notification system that would supplement the outdoor sirens, but plans were put on hold so officials could look into various options. At the time, some suggested a mobile app that could be developed, while others noted a system relying on local towers would allow an emergency message to be received by anyone in the area, regardless of whether they signed up for the service.

Farr also noted there is a free alert system offered by the Cole County Sheriff’s Department.

At the bottom of the sheriff’s department website, colecountysheriff.org, you can sign up for the sheriff alert.

This free program allows residents to get text messages on their cellphones or homes phones about severe weather and other public safety incidents such as when an accident occurs and roads are blocked. It can also be specified to notify about incidents in particular communities in the county.

For those wanting to learn more about severe weather and what to look for, the annual weather spotter class is scheduled for April 16 and will be at the Jefferson City Police Department in their training room. Anyone wanting to go should call 634-9210 or email dbackes@colecounty.org to attend the free event.

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