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More tornado sirens unnecessary, officials say

Modern technology makes alerts easier, more effective

Should Tornado Sirens Return to Pikes Peak Region?

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. - Local emergency responders said Wednesday that the lack of tornado sirens doesn't make the area more vulnerable to danger from twisters.

Sirens were more common in the past, but modern technology created a wider range of warning systems that could alert more people over a wider area.

An exception to the trend is Manitou Springs, where officials installed a $25,000 siren last December to replace a previous siren that broke.  Officials said the siren can be used for tornado warnings and other emergencies, but primarily is intended to warn people of an approaching wildfire or flash flood.

The town plans to acquire two more sirens.  All three will be paid for with state grant money.

Kathy Russell of El Paso County Emergency Management said sirens work best in small, tightly organized communities like Manitou Springs.  The towns of Calhan and Ramah, near the eastern border of the county where the tornado risk is slightly higher, still use sirens.

"Even the best (sirens) only reach for about a mile or a little more," said Russell.  "Many of the alert systems available now have support for the deaf and hard of hearing, which a tornado siren doesn't have."

Ken Hughlett of Colorado Springs Emergency Management said the area has a variety of threats to prepare for, with tornadoes on the low end of the scale.  He said in a heavily populated area, a siren is more likely to confuse people.

"We don't want a notification system geared toward just one hazard," said Hughlett.  "You have people who are used to the idea of going down into a basement when they hear a siren.  Well, that's the last place you want to be if the siren is for a flash flood."

Parts of the lower Arkansas Valley still use sirens.  Pueblo County has no sirens.  Some military installations, like Peterson Air Force Base and the Pueblo Chemical Depot, have sirens but may use them for different reasons such as an enemy attack or chemical leak.

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