Some area sirens failed during Monday’s storms

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Thursday, June 24, 2010
— They work great if you’re outside.

And awake.

And within earshot.

And if they’re working.

In Waukesha County on Monday night, the weather warning sirens didn’t work in Eagle, where a tornado destroyed six homes.

And although no tornadoes were reported in Rock County on Monday night, the two sirens in Milton failed to sound, said Phil Boutwell, assistant Rock County administrator.

A siren in Footville also failed.

The county fixed all three on Tuesday.

Boutwell said he wasn’t sure why the three sirens failed. The sirens are subject to lightning strikes, nesting squirrels and insect goo, Boutwell said.

Sirens are not a perfect method of severe weather communication, but they are an easy way to reach thousands of people in an instant, Boutwell said.

“Hearing that siren does put people at attention,” Boutwell said. “It has an impact on them.”

The sirens are tested monthly. Even so, they sometimes fail during storm events, Boutwell said.

“It’s not a perfect system,” Boutwell said. “But it’s really what the public wanted.”

When the National Weather Service declares a tornado warning in Rock County, the Rock County Communications Center sounds the alarm.

Well, 44 alarms.

No matter where in the county the severe weather is located, the communications center sets off all 44 sirens in the county at one time, Boutwell said.

The sirens are meant to warn people who are outdoors to seek shelter. Often, the sirens can’t be heard from more than a half-mile away or if people are indoors, Boutwell said.

While the sirens can be sounded individually, it’s against county policy to do so, he said.

It takes too long to sound individual sirens, Boutwell said.

A storm could shift faster than communications workers could change sirens, he said.

“It’s just too difficult a task to do in a short period of time,” Boutwell said about sounding individual sirens. “It’s pretty inexact, anyway.”

The policy was set on the recommendation of an ad hoc county committee formed in 2002.

Between 2004 and 2007, the county replaced upgraded sirens and expanded coverage of the outdoor warning system.


Rock County operates 44 sirens to warn people to take shelter in severe weather.

But not everyone lives within earshot of a warning siren, and they can’t always be heard indoors.

Most news sources broadcast severe weather information as soon as it’s available.

“Obviously we’re on the air, on television, during severe weather,” said Colin Benedict, news director for WISC-TV Channel 3 in Madison.

Increasingly, viewers are interested in getting e-mails or texts about severe weather on mobile devices, Benedict said. Viewers may sign up for the service at Channel3000.com, he said.

If you prefer public sources, try the National Weather Service website, weather.gov. E-mailed alerts are available.

If you don’t mind paying for severe weather warnings, you might consider buying a weather radio. A tone broadcast by the National Weather Service activates the radios and can wake people who are asleep during a night alert.

Home and Pro Electronics on Holiday Drive in Janesville sells the radios for $27.99.

Last updated: 2:00 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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