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Local authorities give a look behind the scenes of how weather sirens work

Published: Aug. 12, 2021 at 7:12 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - In the early morning of July 4th, a severe weather siren went off on accident in the Wausau metro area. It happened again Thursday morning.

“We’ve been looking into an inadvertent activation of a siren this morning. We’ve done an investigation and it’s ongoing,” said Phil Rentmeester, City of Wausau and Marathon County Emergency management director.

But if there is ever confusion, look on the Marathon County website or download the Marathon County app for updates, Rentmeester adds.

What about when the siren is legit? Who activates the alarm?

“The sirens are activated by the sheriff’s office in their dispatch center and it’s on their cad system,” said Rentmeester.

But that’s only for the City of Wausau and Marathon County. It might not be the same for other municipalities.

“So we punch in a radio code into our radio system and that communicates with the siren and sets it off, so in our case, its radio activated, but in other communities, they literally have a button on the wall,” said Andy Kurtz, Village Administrator for Marathon County.

The whole county does not act as one unit with the same protocols. That is why Marathon Cities alarms didn’t go off during the storm on Wednesday the 11th and the Wausau Metro Area did.

“The warning signs or things of that nature basically run by each community,” said Kurtz.

For them, the Marathon City Fire Department and police department are responsible for activating the alarm. They each have different procedures in place. Even the sounds of the alarms are unique to each area.

“They get to determine if they want to have a single tone or some other type of tone,” said Rentmeester.

The bottom line is that each municipality is different and a lot of work goes into maintaining the systems. The siren in Marathon City is attached to a generator and it gets tested regularly to make sure everything is running properly when an emergency happens. That means when the power goes out the generator kicks in and the siren can still run. The sirens also have regular testing times.

“In the Wausau Metro Area, the sirens are tested during the tornado season, or the severe weather season, on Monday afternoons at 1:15 pm,” said Rentmeester.

They have different testing times on the off-season too. Rentmeester said to check your county’s website to find out your communities testing schedule.

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