Woodward, Okla. — By Chris Cooper
As the one year anniversary of the 2012 Woodward tornado arrives, Director of Emergency Management Matt Lehenbauer said there are a number of programs in place to help alert people of severe weather.
"A big focus with the public has been with the tornado sirens, which we refer to as outdoor warning sirens. We had $350,000 donated to the City of Woodward from Apache Oil and Gas Corporation, and we used the entirety of those funds to purchase the new system as well as an additional $80,000 from the City of Woodward Emergency Management Funds," Lehenbauer said.
The new system is equipped with back up batteries in case there was a loss of power, as occurred a year go when the tornado took out power lines and substations located to the southwest of Woodward resulting in 20 of the 24 sirens failing to sound.
To supplement the battery back up safeguards, sirens are now on two systems.
“We have three sirens spaced out through the center of Woodward, then we have an additional 24 smaller supplemental sirens on a separate system, that way if we lose one system goes down, we have an additional back up systems," Lehenbauer said.
New sirens are more strategically placed as well, resulting in them being easier to maintain as well as more effective.
"One of the issues we'd had previously was the community growing around some old sirens in areas, which resulted in us being unable to replace or repair them. Now all the new sirens are near intersections where we can easily get to them for repair as well as covering 100 percent of the City of Woodward," Lehenbauer said. "If you're outdoors in Woodward you will be able to hear a siren, and everywhere has backup systems so even if one goes down you should still be able to hear 2 to 4 in that area."
Still, Lehenbauer cautioned against people relying too heavily on sirens as their sole means of alert.
"Their intent is not to warn people inside," he said, "but rather to warn people outdoors to go in and check weather. They should be a last resort warning device. If you can hear them indoors thats a bonus, but don't depend on them to wake you up."
Lehenbauer said the old sirens have been donated to communities around Northwest Oklahoma to be refurbished and used.
A first step in receiving severe weather alerts should be an NOAA weather radio, and Lehenbauer said emergency management has taken a number of steps to try to promote them.
"With a $30,000 donation from CF Industries through the American Red Cross, we were able to distribute 1,000 to Woodward residents last year," he said. "Those are the primary warning device we recommend at every home and can be purchased at local retailers for about $30. We're out of free radios to hand out, but we do offer free programing here at the emergency management office.
"Before the April tornado we estimated about 10 percent of the population of Woodward county had radios. And now we're up to 40 percent judging from sales and free giveaways. We'd like to get those numbers up to 100 percent.
"They're not just for weather any emergency situations either. If the sirens go off for any reason, the radio will too. For instance, during a recent hazardous materials incident near Woodward, the radios were activated for that, an alarm sounded followed by instructions on what to do. We can use them for weather, fire notice, even up to national emergencies."
To supplement the weather radios, emergency management has also developed a network of contact via phones, email, and social media.
"The second tier of alerting people is our automated call, text, and email system," Lehenbauer said.
Lehenbauer says while a system similar to this one was in place prior to the tornado last April, the new system is a vast improvement.
"We were having trouble with our old system, but now we've got a whole new system. Before people had to register and get their info into the system, so we weren't reaching as much of the population as we'd have liked. This new system takes publicly registered number and automatically enrolls you," Lehenbauer said.
Lehenbauer continued on to say the new system also allows people the ability to add their own information, such as email or any additional numbers like cell phones.
"We're also working on a phone app for both the iphone and android market that will update people on local alerts," Lehenbauer said.
More information about the app is also planned to be release in April.
Lehenbauer also said people can subscribe to Emergency Management's Facebook Readywoodward Matt to receive weather updates on their Facebook.