Officials worry Dickinson sirens are 'crying wolf'
There are concerns from Dickinson citizens that the outdoor warning sirens have been sounding too much, City Commissioner Carson Steiner said, and officials are worried it is desensitizing the public.
"The concern that has been brought up is that last week the sirens may not have been called for," Steiner said. "People were getting confused."
Carson said sirens that had gone off last Wednesday may have been unnecessary. He added news and weather reporters were saying they didn't know why they were sounded, leaving some people confused.
Stark County Emergency Manager Bill Fahlsing said the sirens are set off if a funnel cloud has been reported within 15 miles of a city in Stark County for affected areas. Sirens will also be set off if the National Weather Service issues a tornado or severe weather warning.
"This policy is very unique," Fahlsing said. "Our county is the only county that has a policy this in-depth."
Steiner said it is better to err on the side of safety rather than not sound a siren and have something happen. However, he doesn't want people to ignore the sirens because they are going off too much.
"If they are going off a lot, we have to make sure the conditions are what are supposed to trigger off the sirens," Steiner said. "If they go off 10 times a year and they meet the guidelines, that's fine. We just can't have them going off 10 times a year and five of them should not have been."
The siren policy doesn't coincide with the National Weather Service in Bismarck, Fahlsing said, and that may be why people are being desensitized. NWS has also been concerned about the sirens.
"We have to be very careful not to desensitize people," NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist John Paul Martin said. "If a siren runs too often, you run the risk of when a tornado touches down that people will become complacent."
NWS does not set the policy for siren use. Martin said they encourage cities and counties to sound sirens when tornado warnings are issued. Stark County has more criteria to sound sirens than NWS would recommend, he added.
"By policy, if I were to call Stark County 911 and say there is a tornado 10 miles away from Dickinson or any city, the sirens would sound." Martin said. "I'm not saying that Stark County is running them too much."
Fahlsing said the point of the sirens is to warn people, but people seem to be ignoring the sirens. When sirens go off, people should seek shelter, he added.
"People go outside to see why we are sounding the siren," he said. "That is completely defeating the
Steiner said it was time to review the conditions for sounding sirens. Fahlsing said he was going to review the policy and bring it up before the commission.
"I would like to finish out this
season with this policy so as to not confuse people," Fahlsing said. "We will get input on the new policy from all cities in Stark County and the National Weather Service."
Steiner said people need to stay educated and informed to avoid confusion.
"It needs to be more of an educational program to the people," Steiner said. "We need to let them know why the sirens went off so they understand."
"My goal is to be at a policy where the people in Stark County hear the sirens, they know there is an immediate threat and they need to seek shelter," Fahlsing said. "That is not happening with this policy."