Changes coming to severe weather warning system

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - Regional EMA directors, the National Weather Service and Hamilton County commissioner Todd Portune announced changes to the Outdoor Warning Activation Policy on Wednesday.

The Regional EMA directors from Adams, Brown, Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, Highland, Warren, Boone, Campbell, Kenton, Pendleton and Dearborn counties have collaborated to adopt a regional siren activation policy.

"Confusion puts lives and property at risk," Portune said. "Confusion results in people ignoring the sirens."

"You don't want to be driving in Hamilton County and hear the sirens and know it means one thing, but if I'm driving in Brown County it means something else," Hamilton County EMA Director Mike Snowden said.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, the warning sirens will be activated by the county's primary control point using the steady tone. Warnings issued by the NWS are based on severe weather occurrences observed or indicated by radar.

"In the Midwest where there are a lot of tornadoes out this is the policy that I see all the communities moving to if they're not already there," National Weather Service Meteorologist Kenneth Haydu said.

Upon confirmation of an actual sighting of a tornado by a public safety official from the jurisdiction making the report, the warning sirens will be activated using the steady tone.

Sirens may be activated at the request of the incident commander during a hazardous materials release. The siren activation should be accompanied by an Emergency Alert Activation, which can be authorized by the sheriff of emergency management director.

"This is an amazing project that these people were able to pull off," Haydu said. "A lot of states are trying to develop their own policies and these guys were able to get it done in their different states. I'm very impressed."

"It's very important that there be consistency throughout that entire media market so that when the sirens are heard people understand they mean one thing and one thing only so you won't have the proverbial crying wolf scenario where people ignore them," Portune explained.

To ensure they reach as many residents as possible in the case of an emergency, the EMA says they are also using a reverse notification system which uses a phone system to alert residents. Citizens without a land line can sign a cell phone number up through the county EMA's website.

Research shows that confusion hinders public response during emergencies. Officials hope using common guidelines for outdoor warning sirens will minimize confusion in an emergency situation.

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