Even in the age of mobile phone alerts, many Central Texas communities still rely on tornado sirens

Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 7:11 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Many people in Central Texas heard outdoor warning sirens blaring, urging them to seek shelter, during the storms and tornadoes that struck the region on Monday.

Outdoor warning sirens are not a requirement, so not every city has them.

The City of Morgan’s Point Resort does. In fact, it has two and it comes at a hefty price, according to the city’s fire chief, Taran Vaszocz.

“It looks like it was about $35,000 to $40,000 that was put into it about 7 years ago,” Vaszocz said of the city’s second outdoor warning siren installed in 2015. “That’s the cost of putting up a utility pole and all the infrastructure that goes with it,” he said.

Many larger cities in Texas, like Houston, Austin and San Antonio, do not have outdoor warning sirens.

KWTX has learned every major city in Central Texas, and many smaller towns, have multiple outdoor warning sirens. Those include:

  1. City of Waco has 34 sirens
  2. City of Killeen has 21 sirens
  3. City of Temple has 25 sirens
  4. City of Belton has 4 sirens
  5. City of Gatesville has 6 sirens
  6. City of Rogers has 1 siren
  7. City of Lacey Lakeview has 4 sirens
  8. City of Bellmead has 2 sirens

Local city officials say with so many rural areas in Central Texas it makes sense to have sirens here.

“The sirens are designated and designed to work outdoors. You’re not supposed to be able to hear them when you’re indoors. They really do harken back to days when folks would be ranching or farming,” Vaszocz said.

Nearly every city, even those with outdoor warning sirens, are also relying on digital alert systems to make residents aware of imminent threat.

Uryan Nelson is with the Central Texas Council of Governments, which facilitates Code Red phone alerts for free for cities in seven Central Texas counties: Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Milam, Mills, and San Saba.

The Code Red Alerts themselves are sent out by a combination of state and local agencies for the user’s specific location.

“The traditional sirens, if you’re not close enough, you can’t hear it,” Nelson said. “So there’s always going to be gaps with that. Whereas with your mobile device and the technology that’s available, if the system is working correctly, you should never be out of range of being notified of everything.”

There is a possibility of technological issues or a delay in alerts reaching users and some elderly people may have difficulties setting up alerts. So, officials agree a combination of digital alerts and the outdoor sirens is best for a city that can afford it.

To sign up for those Code Red alerts for your city, click here.

You can also download the free KWTX Weather App for latest weather updates.

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