Lifesaving sirens absent in NC

A warning siren

April 20, 2011 5:29:32 PM PDT
Sirens are expensive but Wayne Goodwin, state's insurance commissioner, is getting an earful from business owners and residents and he has said the state should revisit the issue.

The ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team has discovered it really comes down to money.

In a matter of minutes, even seconds, a powerful tornado could be headed your way. By the time you hear the sound of its ferocious winds, it's sometimes too late.

Tornado survivor Devron Jefferon has lived in other parts of the country where sirens are the norm.

"You hear the sirens, it's time to go," Jefferson said.

But there were no sirens when Saturday's storm blew through. Much to the surprise of many ABC11 viewers, NC doesn't have sirens and they want to know why.

"The short answer is that we don't have enough tornadoes to justify having sirens," said Patty McQuillan, NC Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

There's an average of 1,200 tornadoes nationwide yearly. A little over one percent touch down in NC. At least 60 people die annually in violent tornadoes and tornadoes claim at least two lives in NC every year.

But at least two dozen people, including children, would not survive the storm that came through the state last weekend.

ABC11 asked Governor Beverly Perdue if it's time to reconsider tornado sirens.

"The system we have in place has worked," Perdue said. "We're blessed that it happened during the daylight. I hear what you're saying. We'll do whatever we can to ensure NC is protected again."

ABC11 was told it's a county-by-county decision whether to install warning sirens.

So ABC11 contacted emergency management teams from every corner of the Triangle from Orange to Johnston County. They all said they have no future plans to discuss the issue.

"There's a lot more involved than just putting up a pole and having a siren on top that goes off," McQuillan said.

McQuillan, who is a spokesperson for the NC Department of Crime Control and Public Safety, says part of the problem is money. Sirens can cost thousands to maintain and there are studies suggesting they wouldn't work in NC.

"Other emergency officials in the state have said that because of the rolling hills here, the sound doesn't carry the sound like it does in the Midwest. Also, houses are made more soundproof," McQuillan said.

Those are reasons that don't ease the fears of people who survived Saturday's deadly storm.

It should be noted that other hilly states, like Virginia, have sirens and proponents of sirens believe homes are no more soundproofed here than in other places.

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