WARNING: Don’t rely on tornado sirens to save your life - WNEM TV 5

WARNING: Don’t rely on tornado sirens to save your life

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It was a warm, nice evening that nearly turned tragic for Dean Bruderick and his wife.

“I said there's no such thing as tornadoes around here, ya know,” Bruderick said.

That was the Tuscola County man’s initial reaction when he heard the National Weather Service had issued a Tornado Warning in the Kingston Township area last August.

"We were at church having rehearsal when everyone's phone went off for the Amber Alert. They said a tornado is heading towards Decker,” Bruderick said.

Bruderick and his wife headed for home, and when they finally got there, they found destruction.

“We got to our driveway and my construction trailer was rolled over, camper trailer was over in the neighbor’s yard, and uh yeah, it was a tornado here. All of our trees were torn down, so it was a mess,” he said.

It was a mess, but it certainly could have been a lot worse.

While Bruderick and his wife weren't home at the time, they did receive the warning on their cell phone - which is a good thing because on that night they would have never heard a tornado siren.

"I don't know if the siren - maybe in Marlette - there wouldn't have been a siren close enough. They would have all been more than eight miles away probably,” Bruderick said.

Tornado sirens have been an important part of Tornado Warning Systems for years, but they have their limitations and they should never be your only source for emergency information.

Tuscola County Emergency Manager Steve Anderson said his county has challenges other counties don't face.

"We don't have the ability like Saginaw County does, where they can just push a button at dispatch and set them all off at one time. It's each individual department that has to do their own,” he said.

Instead, central dispatch sends a page to local fire officials, then someone physically goes to the local fire station to set the sirens off manually. The process could mean delays, and in severe weather every second counts.

“Caro could set theirs off like right now if there is somebody there, but if they're in another town, it might take them a couple of minutes for someone to get there, then get inside, then push the buttons. So, the time is going to vary,” Anderson said.

Even when the sirens do go off, there is a good chance you may not hear them.

Rich Pollman of the National Weather Service said there is a very good reason for that.

"Outdoor sirens are just that, for an outdoor warning. They're not designed to be heard inside buildings. If you live across the street from one, yeah you might hear it, but they're definitely not designed to be heard indoors,” Pollman said.

Even if you are fortunate enough to hear those sirens, depending on where you live, that siren can mean different things. Each county sets its own criteria for when to trigger the warning.

"You have to contact your local emergency manager, Homeland Security Office, for the county and figure out what the criteria is for them to sound the sirens. It will vary from county to county. And you have to know why the sirens are going off. The main thing, if you hear them, they're basically telling you to go inside and find out what's going on. It's good for that reason. If you're outdoors and don't have your cell phone, and you don't have any way to know what's going on, it's at least telling you to go inside and find out what is the emergency that is happening,” Pollman said.

With those challenges in mind, Tuscola County is using some other strategies to help keep residents informed with today's technology.

"We do have Smart 911 which people can sign up to, which gives us the ability to push out messages for tornadoes and other storm related warnings. So, we do have that ability if you go to Smart911.com and you can sign up, make a profile. The Red Cross has an app where you get warnings from the National Weather Service,” Anderson said.

Pollman said even with all of the hi-tech gadgets available in 2018, every home should still have a weather radio plugged in and ready to go.

"Up and around in your home, you're going to have the television and radio on. Cell phone will be handy, but if you're sleeping in the middle of the night and we issue that Tornado Warning at 3 a.m., the only way you may get that warning is by having a weather radio in your house,” Pollman said.

And remember there is one more excellent tool that will keep you and your family informed and safe.

"I'm out and about all the time, but the Channel 5 Weather App, we have that, so we get warnings through that. My wife and I both have that app on our phones too. It's a great tool!” Bruderick said.

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