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ST. LOUIS–(KMOX)–St. Louis County is defending its tornado warning siren policy, following criticism that its “like the boy who cried wolf.”
The criticism comes from meteorologist Mike Smith, whose company WeatherData, sells weather monitoring systems. In town for a book signing, Smith was commenting on the St. Louis County policy of blowing all its warning sirens county-wide, whenever a tornado is spotted in an adjacent county.
“We have cried wolf with sirens so many times, that a lot of people are now ignoring them,” Smith said. Smith related stories of residents in Joplin “going about their normal business” during the 18 minutes that the warning sirens were blowing before Sunday night’s tornado struck.
“We’ve got to get back to a situation where the sirens mean business,” Smith said, “And you take immediate precautions when a siren goes off, and we stop sounding them in areas that are not threatened.”
Defending the policy, the Acting Director of St. Louis County Emergency Management, Bill Roach, says the sirens mean one thing.
“Those sirens are an early warning device,” Roach said, “They don’t mean people should immediately run down in their basement and seek shelter. What they mean is you should seek additional information.”
Roach says the current policy saves lives, because tornados can change directions, and trying to guess where to selectively warn people could lead to deaths.
St. Louis County is in the process of replacing its tornado sirens. David “Duff” Barney with the Emergency Communication Commission says the old system of 188 sirens is being improved with an array of 185 sirens that are louder and easier to hear. The new system is expected to be operational by the end of the summer.
Barney says he also supports the current county-wide warning siren policy as the safest approach. But he says if policy planners ever decide to issue localized warnings, the new system would allow that.