Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Visitors to downtown LaFayette might think they are in imminent danger of aerial attack when they hear the shriek of civil defense sirens the first Wednesday of each month.
But those fears would be unfounded.
The piercing yowl is just a test of the city’s outdoor warning system siren that is housed atop a pole at the fire station on Wardlaw Street, adjacent Joe Stock Memorial Park.
That siren us a vestige of the Cold War system of sirens that could signify the possibility of aerial assault by sounding an alert, a steady tone, or, with a wailing tone, that an attack was imminent.
Today’s signal aims to alert the public to funnel, rather than mushroom, clouds and the potential for dangerous weather, according to LaFayette Fire Department Fire Chief Robert Busby.
“These sirens are designed to be heard by people that are outdoors,” Busby said. “I live about two miles from downtown and if I’m in my yard I can just barely hear it.”
The chief said that the siren, which once was positioned at the Patton Street fire station, sounded in advance of the April 27, 2011, tornado that struck Walker and Catoosa counties and provides another way to warn citizens of danger.
“The siren is a component of an advance warning system, one that uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios, television and radio broadcast and social media,” he said. “It had been sitting for years without testing before the tornado — we just assumed it would work and it did.”
Busby said the city is developing a map and inquiring about the price of similar warning sirens to see how much it would cost to effectively blanket the city’s roughly 8 square miles with an audible warning network.
Regular tests will take place sometime between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month, should last no more than a minute and will only be conducted under clear skies — one with few visible clouds.
Officials say that in case of inclement weather or cloudy conditions, the test will be rescheduled for the same time on the following Wednesday.
Other than during tests, the early warning sirens will be activated only when one or more of the following events occur:
n When a tornado warning for the LaFayette area has been announced by the National Weather Service
n When a funnel cloud or tornado is reported by a credible source within the city of LaFayette
n When National Weather Service Doppler Radar indicates tornado activity within the city of LaFayette
n When credible reports from neighboring communities indicate a funnel cloud or tornado tracking toward the city of LaFayette
When the sirens are activated, citizens should immediately take shelter in a designated safe room whether in a home, school or business.
“I hope we never have to use it again, and the only time we’ll hear the siren is during Wednesday morning tests,” Busby said.