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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Storm sirens could save lives

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Storms rage and tornadoes sometimes threaten.

Will we know when danger lurks?

Not always. Because unlike some nearby cities -- Tullahoma in particular -- Shelbyville and Bedford County's populated areas don't have storm sirens.

We're dependent on Nashville TV stations' wall-to-wall severe weather coverage, which is good but no help if the power's out and a battery-operated television's not available.

Local radio stations pick up the National Weather Service's instant Emergency Broadcast System alerts. But those alerts are broadcast only once with no repeat. If you aren't listening at that moment you won't hear the warning. And relatively few people have weather band radios -- if they can even get a signal. Within the T-G building my hand-held police scanner -- so strong it receives transmissions from as far as Huntsville -- only gets NOAA Weather Radio if I stand in one hallway, hold it above my head and aim the antenna due west. That's not practical.

Shelbyville once had the "fire siren," which sounded weekdays at noon, when fires occurred and sometimes in severe weather. I remember it sounding -- and audible three miles away -- when strong winds which I've always felt were a tornado struck Tillett's Trailer Park off Madison Street in the mid-1970s.

I was a half-mile away and heard what sounded like an extremely low-flying jet plane -- at near-rooftop level -- seconds before the trailer park was hit. As far as I'm concerned that was a tornado, although none are listed in National Weather Service records for Bedford County that year.

But we have no fire siren today -- and with higher noise levels due to increased traffic and a more widespread urbanized area, it probably couldn't be heard city-wide.

A young man with a promising future was killed near Wartrace a few years ago because he was outdoors, jogging, as a tornado approached. An alert system could have saved his life -- and a loud siren in Wartrace could probably have been heard in his location.

Tullahoma, Motlow College and Middle Tennessee State University (but not its surrounding city of Murfreesboro) have sirens.

Homeland Security grants are being awarded law enforcement agencies for a myriad of reasons, some of which seem to have little to do with protecting ourselves from outsiders. One of those grants would be perfect for storm sirens in Bedford County and Shelbyville.

My cousin in McKinney, Texas, advises that his city -- near America's "Tornado Alley" -- has alert sirens which follow up with a verbal warning in English and Spanish.

Considering the number of manufactured homes in Shelbyville occupied by Spanish speakers, such a warning system could become critical -- and much more important than the bilingual "no littering" signs in some areas of Shelbyville.

And it could prevent situations such as a few years ago when, as Shelbyville was placed under a tornado warning, a group of Hispanics pulled a couch into the middle of Mac Street "to watch the storm come in," as they told police arriving to unblock the road.

One reconditioned storm siren costs approximately $2,400, according to seller Siren Central. Other web sites have listed storm sirens at prices from $3,000 to nearly $15,000 apiece. Regardless, it seems federal grants are available for virtually everything today.

It's time for Shelbyville, Bedford County's smaller incorporated towns, and larger non-incorporated subdivisions to construct a storm alert system. Even one saved life is worth the cost.

David Melson
On the Loose