The strong storm line that tore through Marshall County Jan. 11 resulting in 12 tornadoes across the region, eight in western Kentucky, should serve as a reminder to get signed up for the CodeRED emergency alert system -- especially as officials report the outdoor warning sirens are being phased out.
The National Weather Service of Paducah reported an EF-1 tornado touched down in Benton between 5:42-5:45 a.m., traveling 2.3 miles with a width of 25 yards and estimated peak winds of 90 mph. Luckily, according to the data provided, none of the tornadoes resulted in reported injuries or deaths.
Marshall County Emergency Management Director Curt Curtner said those who were signed up for the CodeRED alerts and located in the affected areas received alerts for flash flooding, severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings during the severe weather event. But several Marshall Countians have still not signed up because they rely on the outdoor sirens, which he said is problematic for a number of reasons: the sirens aren't reliable, they don't tell you the specific threat, they could be warning you about a threat that's not even near your area, and they're being phased out.
"The main thing about the outdoor sirens people don't comprehend is that they're strictly designed for warning people who might be outdoors; if it's 2 a.m. and a tornado is coming through and you're not outside, the sirens aren't meant to warn you," he explained. "Another issue with the sirens--say the mother of all severe thunderstorms comes through and takes our power out across the entire county and then 30 minutes later a tornado is coming, we're dead in the water because there's no electrical backup generators on any of the county sirens, and no power means they don't work."
Curtner said the outdoor sirens are also not necessarily accurate in that they could be alarming in Possum Trot and Calvert City but the actual tornado threat is in Hardin. And only the people who can hear the sirens are taking cover, which is another major issue with relying on them to alert the public of an incoming threat--not everyone is close enough to a siren to hear.
In addition, Curtner said the average cost for repairing the 15- to 20-year old sirens is approximately $12,000-16,000, each.
That cost is outrageous, Curtner said, especially when considering that for $12,000 annually, the county is able to subscribe to an emergency alert system which offers the capability of reaching each of the county's residents with their preferred method(s) of contact: phone call, text, and/or email.
Curtner said in addition to being able to tailor the method by which alerts are received and the ability to choose which types of alerts are received, participants only receive alerts affecting their target area. He said CodeRED Weather Warnings delivers advanced notification of severe weather events as soon as a bulletin is issued by the National Weather Service (NWS), sent via the delivery method chosen by subscribers. Severe weather events include tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood and winter storm warnings. The system delivers the messages only to those in the targeted areas who may be affected, which is designed to increase relevance of alerts and reduce false alarms.
But Curtner is also able to manually issue other types of alerts to subscribers, such as gas leaks, which would also only be issued to the people in the affected area.
When a person subscribes for the alert service, they input a physical address and choose their preferred method(s) of alerts. Once the process is complete, the subscriber(s) will receive alerts any time an alert is issued for that physical address. The service offers the ability to have alerts issued to multiple phone numbers for one address.
"It's a good time to get signed up and it's ridiculous not to get it," he said. "There's no additional charge and if you need help getting signed up, Darlene and I are happy to do that."
A link for signup may be found on the county's webpage, marshallcountyky.gov, near the bottom of the home page. The Marshall County Emergency Management office is located in the county courthouse at 1101 Main Street in Benton and may also be reached by calling 270-527-4739. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.