A week after deadly tornadoes devastated the Middle Tennessee area, two Hendersonville alderwomen say the city needs to consider installing tornado sirens as another way to alert residents of potentially deadly weather.
Ward 1 Alderwoman Peg Petrelli and Arlene Cunningham of Ward 3 asked to put the issue on the March 10 Public Safety Committee agenda after tornadoes rolled through the area early March 3.
Both said they were alerted by tornado sirens in nearby Davidson County – and not through Hendersonville’s Code Red emergency notification system.
While Hendersonville was not directly impacted by a tornado on March 3, the alderwomen questioned why some in the city received warnings and others didn’t.
Hendersonville started using Code Red, a citywide web and phone-based mass notification system, in late 2013. Several other Sumner County cities including Portland, Gallatin and White House also use the system.
The city’s Code Red system issued seven weather alerts to some Hendersonville residents between 12:11 a.m. and 3:48 a.m. on March 3, according to Hendersonville Fire Chief Scotty Bush. The alerts included four severe thunderstorm warnings, two tornado warnings and a flash flood warning. Who received what notifications when, was determined by the National Weather Service, Bush added.
Bush also noted that only 1,098 residents are signed up to receive Code Red weather-related notifications. Just 4,000 residents – less than 10 percent of the city’s population – are signed up to receive any Code Red notifications.
Bush admitted the city needs to do a better job of encouraging residents to sign up for the notification system. Residents can sign up for text, voice mail or email notifications by going to the city’s website www.hvilletn.org.
“We’re talking 4,000 people total are signed up for Code Red,” said Bush. “That’s horrible.”
City leaders have debated the need for tornado sirens for years – including after Hendersonville was hit by a tornado in 2006 and a historic flood in 2010.
Cunningham said she was a proponent of installing tornado sirens in 2011 when a majority of the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to purchase the Code Red system.
Many said at the time that sirens are an outdated way of notifying residents, that they wouldn’t be heard at night, and that they would be too expensive to install.
Cunningham said that when she researched the issue in 2011, it was determined the city would need around 20 sirens to cover the city at a cost of around $30,000 per siren – or $600,000.
Both the cost and the potential pushback from residents who wouldn’t want sirens in their backyards were the main deterrents, she said.
Cunningham added she’d like to research the issue again, noting there may be grants the city could apply for to help cover the cost.
“If we could start the discussion, do the research,” she said.
Hendersonville resident Dana Mutchler agreed the city should explore the issue further.
Even those who receive Code Red notifications may silence their phones at night, Mutchler told committee members.
“What’s the price of one life?” she asked.
Petrelli said the city needs to encourage residents to sign up for Code Red and also to purchase weather alert radios.
“But I don’t think that’s enough,” she said.
“Overall this storm caught a lot of people off guard, but at least with a tornado siren, it’s that extra layer – it says we’ve done everything possible to protect citizens,” Petrelli added. “I know it’s going to be expensive but we’re going to have to get it done.”
The Public Safety Committee directed Bush and police Commander Paul Harbsmeier to research how many sirens would be needed to adequately cover the city and what the cost would be.