Sirens, Cellphones and Social Media: Dane County Upgrades Weather Alerts


Dane County is spending nearly $1 million to upgrade outdoor emergency sirens, and will use social media to alert citizens about dangerous situations. Officials hope it will stop people from ignoring warnings about severe weather.

Wisconsin Emergency Management officials say very few communities, if any, have the targeted system Dane County is installing. It only alerts those in the path of a storm. Currently all of Dane County’s 125 sirens go off if there’s bad weather — even if the storm isn’t likely to hit a particular community. Scott McDonnell is Dane County Board chair. He says this is one reason people sometimes disregard the sirens. “People tend to wait, they look at the TV, they look out the window. They won’t take it seriously. And those moments can be critical: I know! In the Stoughton tornado, there were people who barely got down to the basement and were barely able to escape the tornado because of delays.”

Dane County Emergency Management officials say the new system will be ready by fall. It will be linked to the National Weather Service. The geographic location where that agency pinpoints the storm is where sirens will sound. Deputy emergency management director Dave Janda says they need to get more people to evacuate or take cover. “In order to do that, the system needs to be accurate, in that it warns only the people that are at risk. It needs to be consistent across multiple means of providing that information.”

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The county will expand its telephone warning system to include cell phone users — even if they’re unlisted and don’t register. Dane County will also use social media websites and e-mail to alert residents.