Dane Co. upgrading emergency warning system

New county system will sound targeted, geographic-specific warnings
Dane Co. upgrading emergency warning system

Dane County leaders said Wednesday that the county’s emergency warning system is getting a nearly $1 million upgrade to sound targeted, geographic-specific warnings to those in the path of severe weather.

The upgrades will help strengthen Dane County’s emergency outdoor sirens and its automated 911 calling system, all in an effort to gain the public’s trust and ultimately save lives.

Once completed, the new county warning system will have the ability to sound geographically targeted warnings, ensuring that sirens sound in communities in the paths of storms but not in those out of harm’s way.

Madison resident Ruth Boch said she remembers a tornado in June 2004 that hit just about every street in her neighborhood on the city’s west side.

“I got the car in the garage and, all of a sudden, it just got as black as can be, pouring rain,” Boch said. “And I heard the sirens, and I ran down the basement. But then when daylight came, oh my gosh — the damage you could see!”

But Boch said she never felt her life was in danger after heeding the warnings of a nearby siren.

“It was very important,” Boch said. “I mean, it’s a noisy thing but, hey, it helped.”

“Right now, when you hear the sirens, people tend to wait,” said Dane County Board Chairman Scott McDonell. “They’ll look at their TV; they’ll look out their window. They won’t take it seriously, and those moments can be critical.”

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It’s why county leaders are making the upgrade to the county’s warning systems. Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said the sirens will now announce a more accurate, geographic-specific warning for residents.

“When a siren sounds, it’s in a geographic area, and while much of that geographic area may be in the way of a tornado, some of it may not. And that’s one of the challenges we have, was that people may not have paid attention to warnings,” Parisi said.

County officials said they hope others will listen and take shelter the same way Boch did as storm clouds move in.

“Just having that (siren), I think it’s safe,” Boch said. “I think it’s worth the effort.”

The county said the new upgrades should be completed by this fall.

The system will sync with the National Weather Service’s storm-based warnings, which the county said will provide more accurate warnings for the public.

Officials said the county’s automated 911 calling system will also undergo a dramatic change as a part of the county’s warning system upgrades.

Currently, telephone notifications are available only to those who self-register their unlisted or cellular telephone numbers. Under the county’s upgraded system, partnerships with local cellphone service providers will enable the county to send warnings to all cellphones automatically — registered numbers or not.

Cellphone users must have a phone that is compatible with this Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), and can opt out if they so choose. People should check with their cellular provider to see if their cellphone is CMAS-enabled.

The county’s upgraded system will also have the capability of posting alerts to websites and other social media sites, in addition to email alerts.

To sign up to receive emergency updates through the automated 911 calling system or email, people are encouraged to visit the county’s Department of Emergency Management online at: http://www.countyofdane.com/emergency/warning.aspx

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