Letter: Take responsibility for own safety with severe weather

From: Matt Rothrock


The recent news of task saturation being a cause for the delayed siren activation during the April 28 severe weather brings to bear a conversation we must have about personal responsibility. Our 911 dispatch operators engage in a yeoman’s task day in, day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. A dropped 911 call would have caused an even greater uproar during the April 28 event. As far as we, the public, know, that did not happen.

Of greater concern, to me, is the public’s understanding of the dual purpose of the outdoor warning siren. First, an outdoor warning siren is deployed to warn residents of impending severe weather when those residents are outdoors lacking shelter. It is not meant to be heard by every resident in every corner of the city of Columbus or out in the county, and it is definitely not meant to be heard while one is in his home. The sirens have various ranges and radii, depending on the model and placement. The second purpose of the outdoor warning siren is to force us to tune into some media outlet to gather the necessary information to take shelter and protect life and property.

James Spann, a meteorologist in the Birmingham, Alabama, television market, talks of the “siren mentality” when it comes to people’s response to severe weather events, especially tornadoes. During the devastating April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak that took the lives of 252 Alabama residents, Spann suggested the forecast for the “main event” was more or less perfect. However, a poorly forecasted morning severe weather event preceding the “main event” knocked out power to a quarter of a million people and to the sirens that were supposed to warn people that a tornado was coming. That is the siren mentality: assuming a tornado is coming only when the siren sounds. Many died in Alabama because of this mentality, according to Spann.

Instead, with better technology literally at our fingertips, we can do better by taking responsibility for our own safety and security in severe weather by downloading apps or buying a programmable NOAA weather radio with alert function. People who may not be able to pay for a weather radio or have a smartphone can sign up for Everbridge notifications from the city and the county for free. These notifications were successfully deployed as soon as the warning was issued on April 28. I was not in the county when the warning was issued, but Everbridge notified me so I could check in with my family in the area to make sure they were safe.

We all must take personal responsibility for our safety in severe weather events. Waiting for a siren, and then blaming some entity when they don’t deploy properly, is less likely to save a life in the future. People should be productive in their exasperation: Take the steps necessary to know when severe weather is coming, instead of sending an Onion.