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Dave Olson, Published November 16 2010

Moorhead City Council: More weather sirens needed?

Moorhead Fire Department officials told City Council members Monday night that outdoor warning sirens are not effective at alerting people who are indoors that dangerous weather is approaching.

Nonetheless, several council members said they would like siren “density” increased to boost the odds people indoors will hear them, especially at night.

“This is a very big issue for me,” said Mark Hintermeyer.

“My nightmare is a Wadena event,” he added, referring to Wadena, Minn., which was hit by a tornado earlier this year.

The Moorhead City Council asked the Fire Department to research siren effectiveness after a storm this past summer raised questions about whether all of the city’s sirens were activated, and if they were, could they be heard by people in their homes.

Fire officials said Monday siren manufacturers and federal agencies agree that outdoor sirens are designed to alert people who are outside to possible danger and that outdoor sirens are not effective at reaching people indoors.

Instead, fire officials said, it is recommended that communities take additional steps, like adopting phone notification systems.

The use of weather radios in homes is also recommended, they said.

After the summer storm, Moorhead made arrangements with the CodeRed warning system to allow residents to sign up to receive phone alerts when dangerous weather is heading their way.

Like Hintermeyer, Council Member Nancy Otto said Monday she would like to see the city do more, including increasing the number of sirens in town.

Officials said each new siren could cost up to $30,000 and doubling the number of sirens in town would cost about $300,000.

Fire officials said the current siren system works via a one-way radio signal going to the sirens, which starts them all simultaneously.

They recommended the city look at installing additional equipment that provides two-way communication with sirens that would provide confirmation when a siren is activated.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555