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New plan for Stark County sirens

A lone siren stands within Dickinson city limits on Thursday. Possible overuse of the sirens caused the public to become complacent when they sounded. A new plan has been put in place to have the sirens sound only when danger is near.

Stark County officials have revamped the siren activation plan in hopes citizens will not think they are "crying wolf," officials said Thursday.

"We do err on the side of caution when we sound the sirens," said Bill Fahlsing, Stark County emergency services director. "Really the plan was written to reduce the times we sound the siren in hopes that when we do sound the sirens the citizens will realize that there is an imminent threat and will seek shelter."

The Stark County outdoor warning siren activation and dissemination plan was reviewed by a committee to make changes. It was later approved unanimously by the Stark County Commission on Feb. 7.

Fahlsing has been giving communities updates on the changes.

He said concerns about sounding the sirens too often were the main reason for redoing the policy.

"What I was finding is when we were sounding the sirens, rather than citizens taking appropriate action and seeking shelter, they really didn't know why or didn't feel because of the way our policy was set up that there was an imminent threat to the citizens in Stark County," he said.

Citizens may not have realized the sirens were going off last year because severe weather warnings were being issued, he said. The idea was to make the plan adaptable to the people while still being able to err on the side of caution.

"We don't want this to get to the people that we are crying wolf too many times," Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said. "When those sirens go off, we want them to take it serious."

The plan excludes language that would require the sirens to go off when a severe thunderstorm warning was issued by the National Weather Service in Bismarck, Fahlsing said. Instead, sirens will be activated when wind speeds 70 mph or greater are approaching or within any city in Stark County.

"We decided to take that (language) out because I believe that was the root cause of a lot of the times the sirens were sounding," he said.

The sirens can only "cry wolf" so many times before people ignore them, said Stark County Commissioner Russ Hoff. The plan should take care of any misunderstandings residents have about the activation plan, he added.

"These sirens were blowing for pretty much any time a thunderstorm was coming up," he said. "It was just too confusing."

Language has also been added to sound the sirens when "a hazardous materials or life-threatening on-scene incident commander has requested activation," according to the policy.

Sirens are activated when the NWS issues a tornado warning for any community or when a funnel or tornado is reported within 15 miles of any city and is on a direct path to hit those cities located in Stark County.

Sirens can be sounded individually and will only be sounded for cities that will be affected.

Fahlsing added that residents should have an emergency plan so when the sirens go off they know what to do and seek shelter immediately.