FEMA: Tornado Sirens Proved Beneficial in Rural Communities

On April 27, 2011, widespread damage was reported in Guntersville, AL, with trees down and some residents trapped in vehicles or homes. Trees and power lines blocked roadways as tornadoes ranging from EF-0 to EF-4 struck Marshall County. Five fatalities were recorded. According to Anita McBurnett, Marshall County’s Director of Emergency Management, the picture could have been grimmer in several rural communities had warning systems not been in place.

It’s amazing. The track that it took is exactly where we’d put the new sirens up,” said McBurnett. “It was very fortunate that had been done and residents had gotten the warning that they needed. Three years in a row we have had presidential declarations. Through planning and preparation we had identified areas of high risk.”

Located in rural northeast Alabama, Marshall County has a population of approximately 90,013 residents. The county is 55 percent rural. A large portion of the rural area is at high risk, including the communities of Ruth, Hog Jaw, and Union Grove, which were in the path of the EF-4 tornado that touched down. It is estimated that these areas have approximately 15,000-20,000 residents.

Forty tornado sirens are located throughout the cities and rural communities within the county. Ranging from a 2.5- to a 5-mile radius, the sirens are activated during periods of tornado warnings. The sirens have various tones followed by a pre-recorded message. Residents are instructed to seek immediate shelter at the nearest suitable location when the sirens are heard. Through the county’s Education and Outreach Program, residents can differentiate a tornado watch and warning and are aware of the appropriate action to take.

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