Not all Dane Co. sirens go off for every tornado warning - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Not all Dane Co. sirens go off for every tornado warning

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MADISON (WKOW) -- The storms this week raised questions about Dane County's Emergency Warning System as to why some people heard sirens or got alerts on their phones and others did not.

The National Weather Service issued four tornado warnings since Monday night that affected parts of Dane County, which triggered the county alert system each time.

Dane County Emergency Management adopted a new Emergency Warning System about two years ago and officials say this week was the first time it was used for a tornado warning after a few calm weather seasons.

For many years, every time there was a tornado warning all 134 sirens would go off, no matter where in the county the warning was targeted. Emergency Management Assistant Director Dave Janda tells 27 News that wasn't an efficient plan, because it often caused false alarm and didn't accurately time out the location of the storm.

The new plan focuses just on the portion of the county under a warning.

"[We] take the storm track from the National Weather Service," Janda says. "When they issue a tornado warning, they'll draw a polygon around the storm and say this is where it is, this is where it's going, this is where the area at risk is, and that gets overlayed on the siren system map and only the sirens with coverage in that area are sounded."

Many people have been calling Dane County Emergency Management this week asking why they didn't hear the sirens, wondering if they're working properly. Officials say you may hear a siren that's farther away and in the NWS' tornado warning polygon even if your closer siren is not in the affected area.

Officials say only one siren in the warning areas was down for maintenance this week. They were not able to immediately obtain data on how many sirens in the warning areas went off.

Janda says it's important to remember sirens are meant to be an outdoor warning and you may not hear one inside your home. They have a range a little more than a mile. It's best to make sure you have a weather radio and tune in to the weather broadcasts in the event of an emergency. Those can be purchased at a drug store or online.

Cell phone carriers have also started issuing tornado and flash flood warnings to smart phones in a partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the FCC. An automatic text message and alarm sound is sent to phones in the affected counties. Some carriers send the messages to people in the entire county, others just to those in the affected tornado warning zone.

The phone alert may have saved Martha Miller's life Monday night when the tornado tore through Verona, damaging many homes.

"My emergency alarm went off on my phone to say get up and go downstairs and it woke me up, otherwise I wouldn't have heard it," Miller told 27 News Tuesday.

Residents can also sign up for the county's emergency telephone notification. When a particular neighborhood is affected, the county will call with a recorded message alerting people to get to safety.

Visit Dane County Emergency Management's website for other details on the warning system and more severe weather tips.

You can also download the 27 Storm Track Weather App for Apple or Android devices and sign up for WKOW text alerts to stay informed on the go. 27 News live streams any breaking weather coverage on
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