Cell Phone Alerts May Replace Tornado Sirens

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Are tornado a thing of the past? Not yet, but things are moving in that direction. Cellphone warnings are becoming more and more popular and some would argue more reliable. Emergency management says there is there is value, however, to having multiple warning systems.

"I think that it's all a combination of things that need to be used. The sirens are still good. Besides the sirens, the apps that they have out for cell phones and the different weather alerts that are out there and weather radios you can purchase are all a combination of things that people should use," Lincoln County Interim Director of Emergency Management Jeff Kraft explained.

Still some cities and towns are shying away from using tornado sirens, like Tomahawk.

"Their sirens were old and antiquated and there was a large cost to keeping them up and they decided to go a different direction," Kraft told NewsChannel 7.

One option for people living in cities and towns without sirens like Tomahawk is the American Red Cross tornado app. The app is linked to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Whenever NOAA issues a warning in your area, a high-pitched siren and "tornado warning!" alert goes off on your phone.

"It's marvelous because tornados happen when we're sleeping, maybe in areas where we don't have a NOAA radio with us at the moment. But more and more and more people have their mobile apps with them," Lora Hainy of the American Red Cross said.

The app does not need to be open for it to work, but you do need to enable your phone's GPS system. Once the warning has expired or been cancelled the app will give an "all clear!" signal. But the app serves as far more than just a warning.

"It has a marvelous one touch feature that you can, through the Facebook, through Twitter accounts, through multiple mobile applications, contact your family members with a single touch that says I'm safe. I'm well. I'll be contacting you," Hainy explained.

The app can also acts as a flashlight, strobe light and even provides first aid advice.

Cell phone alerts are also far cheaper than tornado sirens. The cost of maintaining a siren is estimated at near $10,000 a year and installing new sirens can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $120,000. In addition, sirens are not always audible to people indoors or out in the country. Another drawback is that sometimes they fail to go off all together. Something that happened back in 2011 during the Merrill tornado.

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