Emergency agencies clarify role of weather sirens

Residents confused over when sirens sound during weather events

Emergency sirens are designed to alert residents in the event of severe weather.

But what, exactly, is meant by “severe” weather. Each county has a different set of policies with regards to when they sound their sirens, though all say their policies are designed to keep residents safe.

Inside Monroe County’s Justice Center is where people are ready in case the weather takes a turn.

“We have four communities in Monroe County that have sirens, and we can set them all off right here on a moment’s notice,” said Randy Williams, administrator for Monroe County’s emergency services.

Knowing when that moment comes can be the difference between life and death.

“We try and set them off approximately 15 minutes before they come into the community that has been identified,” Williams said.

That’s why all counties, such as Monroe, will always set off their sirens for tornado warnings provided through the National Weather Service.

The county also uses their sirens beyond a tornado, depending on information from storm spotters and law enforcement.

“Usually 55 mile an hour winds or higher will set them off in Monroe County,” Williams said.

Because the sirens play an expanded safety role, emergency officials there said it’s crucial to educate the public.

“It may not necessarily be a tornado in Monroe County if you hear the sirens, but it’s severe enough weather, with high enough winds, or possible large hail, that it could be destructive, and could cause injuries,” Williams said.

Meanwhile, emergency services in La Crosse use slightly different criteria for their sirens, with more emphasis on information from the National Weather Service.

“We set it off if the wind speeds are 70 miles per hour or higher, which is difficult for a dispatcher to determine,” said Jay Loeffler, La Crosse County emergency management administrator. “Basically when trees are becoming uprooted, that’s an indication of 70 miles per hour.”

No matter what the criteria is, officials warn to never take the sirens lightly.

“If you hear those sirens, you need to take shelter or be in a safe place,” Williams said.

Due to frequent complaints, officials at Monroe County are in the process of tweaking their policy with regards to when they will sound the sirens, making sure residents do not get complacent if they hear them during a weather event.

Because sirens are intended for those outside, officials also recommend having a weather radio in your home.