A particular need exists to reach people in areas distant from sirens usually clustered in or near population centers.
Lee County's Board of Supervisors has made the right decision to enlarge its existing 26-siren system to 28 sirens, installing new ones in Mooreville and Saltillo, and those will increase the coverage for thousands of people. Siren upgrades will be applied in Baldwyn, Nettleton, Plantersville, Shannon and Verona.
However, rural coverage remains problematic in Lee and most other counties, but other measures can be taken and choices encouraged to give more people time to seek safer shelter when our region's inevitable tornadic systems cycle through:
- Encourage every household and business to purchase and use a NOAA Weather Radio, available at most retail electronics businesses and some hardware stores. The radio continuously broadcasts the forecast for specific areas, and during severe weather episodes the radios are programmed to sound automatic warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods and high straight-line winds. The emergency alert can be set to go off 24-hours a day without the regular forecast broadcast in active mode. Memphis and Jackson are the NOAA/National Weather Service offices covering most of Mississippi.
- It is possible, as in Boone County, Ky., to link emergency messages to an automated telephone notification system which will dial every published number as needed and can dial unpublished numbers provided to the county's emergency management agency. Boone County's system is called "Communicator," which is linked to software specifically designed for the task and can narrow or broaden the notified areas, as necessary. The county's website describes its capability as "pinpoint notification." In a localized emergency, officials can select the affected area on a map of Boone County and automatically generate a call list.
Most of the funding for emergency warning systems comes from the federal government through state EMA affiliates, with a small local matching amount.
We hope the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, FEMA and the congressional delegation strongly encourage additional federal funding to enhance and broaden early warning systems in Mississippi and across the Southeast.
Every region has a primary natural disaster threat - earthquakes, sunamis, floods, windstorms and other hazards.
Nothing will stop the weather systems, but investing in technology to help people get out of the way is ultimately sensible.