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 backup batteries in case there was a loss of power, as occurred a year ago, 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 now are 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 one system goes down, we have an additional back up system,” Lehenbauer said.
New sirens are more strategically placed, as well, resulting in them being easier to maintain, as well as being 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 two to four 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, that's 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 (radios) to Woodward residents last year,” he said. “Those are the primary warning devices 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 programming 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 any weather 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 also has 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 said while a system similar to this one was in place prior to the tornado last April, the new one 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 gives people the ability to add their own information, such as email or any additional numbers like cellphones.
“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 planned to be released in April.
Lehenbauer also said people can subscribe to Emergency Management’s Facebook Readywoodward Matt to receive weather updates on their Facebook.
Cooper writes for The Woodward News.