Software fails to set off tornado sirens in Fond du Lac County during severe weather

Published: Aug. 2, 2021 at 4:31 PM CDT
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FOND DU LAC, Wis. (WBAY) - Fond du Lac County is back to manually sounding its tornado sirens after a software system failed during last week’s storm. Last Wednesday night, no sirens went off when a tornado warning went into effect for parts of the county.

Fond du Lac County’s Emergency Management Director, Bobbi Hicken, says the warning siren’s failure to go off during severe weather last fortunately happened during a late night storm, and not in the middle of the day. According to Hicken, “Outdoor warning sirens are meant to alert people outside and there probably weren’t that many people outside that needed to have that notification so it was a better storm for it to happen.”

The system’s failure is still unacceptable. Hicken knows the system works, because it’s used during the weekly siren tests. But last week was the first time a true warning came through from the National Weather Service.

“Where the breakdown was is from the National Weather Service information being passed through to the system. We did not have an ability to test that before. I have since asked the company to either establish a way to do that or we would not be able to do it. I cannot allow for this to happen,” says Hicken.

So while Hicken works with the software company to figure out what went wrong, the county will manually sound the sirens, should a tornado warning happen again.

But, unlike the failed system - which is set up to only sound the sirens in the affected area - manually setting off the sirens is all or nothing because it’s not efficient during a time when seconds count.

Hicken adds, “If we were to do it the way the software does, the dispatcher would have to look at the polygon, drawn by the National Weather Service, assess which sirens are within that polygon, select those sirens only. By that time we’re talking two minutes and it’s too late already.”

The failed system is just another reason why people need to remember that sirens shouldn’t be the only warning system they pay attention to in severe weather.

A NOAA weather radio and the WBAY Weather App are resources that can be more targeted to a specific location.

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