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Warning system could be improved

Don’t be alarmed the first Thursday of every month at 9 a.m., but still look outside to be sure. You’ll hear the county tornado sirens sounding off. It’s just a test.

Still, residents cannot assume the weather outside is non-threatening only because they know the siren’s schedule. The siren is the only potential warning they have for a tornado or other kinds of severe weather.

Marengo County Emergency Management Agency director Kevin McKinney wouldn’t mind switching methods to deliver such a serious message to citizens. He would prefer a reverse-911 system where the county could send automated telephone messages to home and cellular phones.

“You reach more people, and you can send them different messages rather than just a tornado warning. You could also do evacuation or immunization notices,” McKinney said. “It’s expensive, but unlike sirens, it’s more like a lease-type system where you have a yearly payment. They’re more cost-effective in the long run.”

The call systems approach costs of approximately $15,000 per year, McKinney said, and would be purchased from private companies.

Marengo County currently has nine tornado sirens, each costing roughly $15,000. McKinney said any upkeep of the sirens is worth the expense, given they’re the county’s go-to method to warn residents.

But he maintains they’re not the most effective way to deliver that warning.

He said homeland security has implemented new regulations where its money can only be spent on voice and tone sirens. The newer sirens must have voice capability that broadcast pre-recorded messages, which cost nearly $25,000.

Marengo County does not have any voice sirens. McKinney thinks those types would be most effective in the downtown Demopolis area and other areas with businesses and homes. Otherwise, he doesn’t see the need for them.

Outdoor warning sirens reach about a half-mile radius, McKinney said. They fail to penetrate most buildings because they are designed only for outdoor warnings.

“They’re designed to warn people who are outdoors that there is severe weather so they go inside and turn their TVs and radios on to get more information,” he said.