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      Tornado siren systems secondary to NOAA radios

      A fter tornados ripped through the Midwest and Plains states destroying homes and even several lives this weekend, more people are even more aware of just how important severe weather alert systems really are. Especially citizens of Woodward, Okla., who were notified by city sirens only a few minutes before the twister struck because of a lightening strike and possible failure in the system.

      I t's devastating storms like those that might make some of us wonder -- how safe and reliable are alert systems in the Amarillo area?

      Officials with the Office of Emergency Management reassured us -- very.

      "Our system is tested daily, weekly, monthly," said Emergency Management Coordinator, Kevin Starbuck. "Through our system we're able to tell when something is broken and we try to send technicians out as soon as possible to get that repaired. We've never seen a situation where an entire system failed but that's why we have so much back up and redundancy built in our system, so we don't have that issue."

      With other 89 tornado sirens located in the Amarillo and Randall/Potter County area that are all checked so frequently, it sounds like a pretty fail-safe system. However, that's where many folks go wrong, Starbuck said. Too many people rely on tornado sirens as their only severe weather alert.

      "It's an outdoor warning system. The system is simply not designed to penetrate inside a house," said Starbuck. "We strongly recommend that everybody gets a NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio. You get that warning directly in your home. While the sirens are a powerful system and allow us to provide some early alert warning capability to our community, we strongly work with the weather service and strongly recommend that people have a NOAA Weather Radio."

      The Amarillo and Randall/Potter County tornado siren system is tested audibly on the last Friday of every month at 11:30 a.m. Technology allows the other tests to run silently, or allows each siren to report back to the system if there is something wrong with it. On top of that, the Emergency Operations Center has three alternate ways to activate the tornado sirens should something fail in the primary system.

      So between the NOAA radio, information from various news outlets and the sirens - the sounds that usually mean 'trouble is brewing', might just help save your life.