Investigation finds no uniform standards for metro tornado sirens

by: Aaron Diamant Updated:

ATLANTA,None - A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered glaring differences between how metro Atlanta cities and counties maintain and trigger their tornado sirens.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Aaron Diamant spent weeks reviewing sirens tests and inspection records for cities and counties across metro Atlanta.

Many of the issues discovered included dead batteries and blown fuses, which could keep sirens from sounding, but most concerning to lawmakers and meteorologists is the lack of standards.

"It's critical that communities do all they can to alert their citizens as soon as possible of impending danger," said Ken Davis of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency.

In Georgia, tornado sirens are optional and a decision left to local communities, Davis said.
That means the decision for how to maintain them and how often to inspect them are also a local decision.

Smyrna Fire Chief Jason Lanyon showed Diamant the new early warning system his city spent $250,000 to install.

"It's so important, because first of all, you never know what minute you might need this, what day you might need this," said Lanyon.

A computer gives Lanyon real-time warnings when any of the city's 10 sirens break down in between monthly tests.

"This last command I gave, it failed. So it tells me sirens one and two are giving me problems," said Lanyon as he demonstrated the silent test function of Smyrna's new system. "The delay (in the old system) of 30 days to fix something because you don't even know it is broken literally can mean the difference between life and death."

Channel 2 Action News filed open records request with a handful of metro cities and counties that have tornado sirens and requested all testing, inspection and maintenance records for the last three years.

Digging through the records Diamant found no standards for testing, maintenance and sounding the early warning systems.

The city of Alpharetta's records showed monthly siren tests and bi-monthly inspection records that depicted battery failures in several of their tornado sirens.

Diamant spoke with Pete Sewczwicz, Alpharetta's Public Works Director and asked if it concerned him.


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"It does a little, but what makes me proud is that they get resolved quickly. They are not taking forever and a day to get done," said Sewczwicz.

The city of Hapeville has four tornado sirens. When Channel 2 Action News requested Hapeville's records for their warning systems, the city responded with an email that said the city "does not have any records recording the monthly testing."

Diamant spoke with Hapeville Fire Chief Tom Morris who said he couldn't find any records.

"So you didn't know nobody was keeping records until we put an open records request in?" asked Diamant.

"That's correct," replied Morris. "When we test them, we weren't in the habit of riding out to each location to make sure that they were operable," said Morris.

Morris told Diamant it was eye-opening and he is now making major changes.

"You've got to be even more vigilant about making sure that it works when you're trying to protect thousands and thousands of people," said state Sen. Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain.

Most concerning for Severe Weather Team 2 chief meteorologist Glenn Burns is that there are no set rules in Georgia telling cities and counties when and when not to sound them.

"We need consistency. The public needs consistency. They know when that warning goes off and they hear that siren, that's a tornado," said Burns. "There's got to be someone that's in charge of the entire system."

After polling several agencies in our area, Diamant found siren sounding standards vary from place to place. Some towns and counties only sound them during an actual tornado warning, while others sound them during a severe thunderstorm warning with a tornado watch.


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