Cheaper, more ubiquitous smart phone apps, weather radios are better
VILLAGE OF HARTLAND - On June 28, someone claiming to be a trained weather spotter told a Waukesha County dispatcher that he saw a tornado touch down on the southwest side of Hartland during a heavy rainstorm.
Turns out, there was no tornado, but after the village's fire department shared a Facebook post relaying the same information, several residents panicked.
They hadn't heard any external warning for the tornado — because they couldn't: Hartland does not have outdoor weather sirens.
Some residents learned for the first time about the lack of sirens, and it revived a conversation the village has had at least twice before in recent years.
Should Hartland install weather sirens?
High cost, low functionality
Officials said outdoor weather sirens have limited functionality, are very costly and less effective than other, more ubiquitous warning systems such as smart phone applications and weather alert radios.
"As their name suggests, outdoor warning sirens were designed and used to warn people that are outside that dangerous weather is occurring," said Village Administrator Dave Cox.
"They were implemented in a time when most of the populace did not have a device in their pocket that provided the same — and likely better — information," he added.
Fire Chief Dave Dean, who said he had been a proponent of sirens in the past, agreed.
"In today's world of technology, far superior methods of notification are available to residents that allow them to be better informed and warned in the event of an emergency," he said. "Television, radio, the internet, countless applications for phones and other options exist for people to be notified."
Both encouraged residents to sign up for an emergency notification service that will text or e-mail alerts to registered users. A link to the service can be found on the police department page of the village website or bit.ly/Weather_Alerts.
Radio might still be best
The village has at least twice before — in 2008 and 2010 — considered installing weather sirens, according to Cox and media reports, and the conclusion both times was the same.
"In the final analysis at that time (in 2010), and at other times the subject came up, the primary consideration was the relatively little benefit against the significant cost," Cox said.
The installation cost had dropped by more than half between 2008 and 2010, from roughly $53,000 to $20,000, but Cox said cheaper alternatives, such as weather alert radios were still preferred.
"Residents can and should consider a weather radio, which is specifically designed to interact only with the local National Weather Service warning system and which will tone automatically in the event of a weather emergency," Cox said.
After an initial warning tone, a National Weather Service announcer offers detailed information about an oncoming storm, including where the storm is, what direction it’s coming from, what type of storm it is and who will be affected.
Cox also pointed out that many free and low-cost smartphone apps and services exist that will connect a user to local weather emergency information based on their location at a given time.