Sirens Don't Cover Everyone
On Nov. 10, 1998 at 1:58 a.m., a tornado touched down in the Southridge subdivision in Columbia. The tornado traveled northeast and reached F-2 intensity. It continues northeast destroying close to 50 homes and businesses, and finally died at 2:03 a.m.
Almost ten years ago, Columbia managed to survive the devastation without any deaths, thanks in part to the city's outdoor warning sirens.
"The intent and purpose of those sirens is to get people's attention," public safety official James McNabb said.
Back in 1998, Columbia's population was just shy of 80,000. Columbia's most recent census in 2005 shows a population of nearly 92,000. Boone County as a whole shows similar growth.
"As the community grows, there are areas that we either know now, or we absolutely know in the future are going to require greater coverage," McNabb said.
So the city is doing what it can to accomodate for the growth.
"During the past several years we've recognized the need to replace some of our outdoor warning sirens," McNabb said.
The city is re-using the old ones in places where the population is sprawling out.
In southwest Columbia, where the siren coverage ends, there are still houses that fall out of the coverage area. Officials say there's just no way the sirens can cover everyone, and that doesn't just include Columbia's sprawl.
"Twenty to 30 miles outside of the city, there are a lot of small communities who don't have that same level of protection that the more urban communities do," rural development official Greg Branum said.
That's why Holt's Summit, population 4,000, passed a sales tax to pay for its own warning sirens.
"It can be very difficult for local communities to figure out how they're going to pay for things," Holt's Summit police chief Victor Pitman said.
But there are programs to help.
"We are returning the tax payer's dollars back to rural Missouri where they came from," Branum said.
The USDA gives grants for outdoor warning sirens.
"We're looking at a fairness issue. The people in the rural areas should be treated as well as the people in the urban areas," Branum said.
As for the urban areas, McNabb said population growth is unpredictable.
"It's always a challenge becuase you never know when a development is going to pop up at any given point in time," McNabb said.
Emergency management says outdoor warning sirens are not the primary warning for a tornado because they alert people who are outside. The best advice is to turn your radio or television on, if you notice severe weather. The most effective way to hear a warning is to buy an NOAA weather radio.