By Russell Hixson
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Oklahomans are familiar with the wail of tornado sirens that warn residents to take shelter.
But city experts said relying on the sirens alone is a bad idea.
Stillwater Emergency Management Technician Rob Hill said all residents should consider purchasing a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association weather radio for immediate alerts, especially those who live in rural areas outside the city limits.
Stillwater has nearly 50 tornado sirens, each with an audible radius of one half mile. They are paid for by tax dollars and are only within city limits.
“They are outdoor warning systems — it is not for indoors,” Hill explained. Those inside their homes watching TV, taking a shower or fetching something from the basement might not hear anything.
The sirens are sounded when there is a visual confirmation of a tornado or rotating wall cloud with a funnel.
The sirens blast for 3 minutes to save battery and then there is a 5-minute wait. If the there is still a threat, the sirens will continue for 3 minutes, every 5 minutes.
Hill said there is no siren to give an all clear so just because it stops does not mean it is safe to go outside. The city usually uses the radio or public address system for that.
Hill suggested also using television, radio or Internet to track severe storms in addition to listening for sirens. And for those in rural areas, the NOAA radio is a must because it may be their only warning, Hill said.
It also provides information directly from the source as the city receives it, making for a faster response time.
The city has to verify information and then act on it.
Hill said NOAA radios are available at many local stores and range in price from $20 to as much as $130, depending on the model.
Just as important as keeping up to date on storm activity is having a plan to enact when it happens. Payne County Emergency Management Director Jeff Kuhn said while tornados typically occur around March, June, August and November but can occur any time of the year.
View Tornado Sirens in a larger map
Hill recalled a tornado warning during the Stillwater Christmas parade five years ago.
“What’s the threat, what can happen and what are you going to do if it does,” Hill said, listing questions homeowners should ask themselves long before severe weather hits.
He said for tornadoes, residents should go to the lowest part of their home to seek shelter. He also suggested putting together a severe weather kit with flashlights, food, water and other essentials.
Hill said it is just as important to practice your plan and make sure your children know what to do as well.
He recommended visiting ready.gov for more tips on being prepared for severe weather.