Licking County EMA looking into early morning tornado siren activation

Local News

For about 30 minutes, a number of tornado warning sirens in Newark, OH blared in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning.

Annoyed residents started dialing 911, which tipped authorities off that something was going on outside of their control.

Normally, the warning sirens will trigger if the National Weather Service issues a warning and the box that tracks the area of that warning comes into the area of one of the sirens; or if the county emergency management team triggers them manually through the dispatch center.

Either way, a radio signal is sent to the physical siren to trigger the machine which begins to rotate and create the high pitched whine we are all accustomed to.

However, Tuesday morning’s signal came from neither the National Weather Service nor the dispatch center.

It is a bit of a mystery right now, how the sirens were triggered and why.

The county emergency management department does not own the sirens and relies on the local municipalities to have them serviced and maintained.

With no records of any activation of sirens in the dispatch logs Tuesday morning, figuring out how many and which sirens were going off was the first order of business.

They had to triangulate 911 calls to determine which sirens were near each caller.

By Tuesday afternoon, at least two sirens were identified as being set off and they were miles apart.

As calls started coming in to the dispatch center, operators attempt to shut the sirens down remotely and saw varied results.

Eventually, all the sirens were silenced until just before noon when the two that had been identified went off again seemingly without provocation.

Ruling out activation from the dispatch center and the National Weather Service leaves a few other possibilities.

One of those possibilities could be someone intentionally setting them off, but that would be difficult according to the director of Licking County Emergency Management Sean Grady.

“Anything is possible at this point,” said Grady. “It would be hard to do, you’d have to know that exact frequency and you’d have to be close to the individual sirens to trigger them.”

Grady says, while that is not impossible it would require some serious hardware.

Regardless of who is setting them off, or why, having the sirens blaring unnecessarily is quite problematic.

“If the siren’s going off, I would prefer it to be going off with dark skies and thunderstorms,” said Grady. “But when these things activate for no apparent reason regardless if the weather’s sunny or whatever, it does cause you to have concerns about that; will people take them seriously.”

This isn’t the first time they have had problems with sirens going off on their own, but never to the degree experienced Tuesday morning.

In the past it has been a solitary siren and not at full strength or with a different sound emanating from the device signaling some other kind of malfunction.

Grady tells NBC 4 emergency management is going to be testing all of their sirens in the first week of March as part of a coordinated effort.

They hope to have this issue resolved by then; and if it is an individual who has figured out how to set these alarms off at their whim, Grady says they will figure out who they are.

An investigation into what happened Tuesday morning is underway.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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