This was paramount during the May 4, 2003 tornado that struck communities in Crawford County, including Franklin.
That community erected their first tornado siren a week ago and Franklin Community Council President Craig Stokes said that the addition of the siren is something that has been needed for some time.
"It gets people prepared for the severe weather when it comes it," Stokes said. "It allows people to take precautions."
But, the community of Franklin is rare. It is the only unincorporated area of Crawford County that has its own tornado siren. It is also the only siren in Crawford County that will be set off, using a dual tone, multi-frequency system, by the Crawford County Sheriff's department. Sheriff Sandy Horton said that could present some issues in the future.
"The only real problem with the system in Franklin, is that the siren will sound for five minutes then shut off," Horton said. "The potential is there that we will not know to set it off again."
He said that is not the problem for the other 34 sirens in the county. Because all of the tornado sirens are in incorporated cities in Crawford County, each city is responsible for setting them off in the event of a storm. Of the 35 total sirens in Crawford County, five once doubled as fire alarm sirens for their respective towns.
Horton said that in order to prevent the issue from becoming a problem, the Sheriff's department will train weather spotters in the area on how and when to set off the sirens.
"We need to make sure that the spotters know that they need to set it off again," Horton said.
Stokes said that was easily remedied.
"We do have an option to set it off at the pole," Stokes said. "If communications were down at the Sheriff's department or something like that, then we would have the ability to set it off."
Another issue facing rural residents of Crawford County is the fact that most of the incorporated areas are located in the eastern portion of the county, leaving the western section without tornado sirens.
"There are still a lot of smaller communities that do not have the storm warning system," Stokes said. "When they don't have an emergency warning system, they don't have any idea that there is something coming their way."
Horton said that many smaller communities like Walnut, Hepler, Arcadia and Farlington rely on fire whistles for their storm warnings.
"A lot of the towns have the fire whistles that they use, they just need to have someone there to turn it on," Horton said. "In the case of the Franklin tornado, I notified dispatch to make sure Mulberry sounded their sirens."
Most newer tornado sirens, such as the one in Franklin, sit approximately 45 feet in the air and have a sound radius of up to two miles.
"We have some older ones and as they go bad, we try to replace them with newer ones," Girard City Administrator Mike West said.
Girard, currently, has eight tornado sirens in the city limits and immediately surrounding the city.
Stokes said companies that sell tornado sirens are able to map out how many an area would need to cover the population served.
"The storm siren companies that sell them examine maps to determine how many you would need, but ours being in the middle of town, covers the area pretty well." Stokes said.
The city of Pittsburg has the highest number of tornado sirens (12) in the county and they are positioned based on the sound radius that they cover.
Horton said that since the Sheriff's department does not activate sirens in the county, except for Franklin, they are responsible for communicating with storm spotters in the area and notifying them of storm movement.
"What we do is if we are under a watch, we will activate our spotters, but if the storms start away from us, we then monitor the surrounding counties," Horton said. "If a storm develops and becomes severe, we will activate our spotters then as well.
"If is not a surrounding county and the National Weather Service notifies us, we will notify them then too," he added.
Horton said that it would be an equipment issue to have the Sheriff's department set off all of the sirens in the county.
"We barely have room in our radio consoles to house the Franklin system," Horton said. "The discussion to have all of the sirens in the county has never happened, but if other communities would like to do what Franklin is doing we would be receptive, but we would have to find some budget to make that happen."
Rae Ann Rose, city clerk in Arcadia, said that the siren used in Arcadia is their fire siren. The siren is just used for severe weather, and not for fire.
"It is pretty old," Rose said. "We have talked about applying for a grant to buy a new siren. We're just looking at our options right now."
Stokes said that having a tornado siren in the vicinity is added protection for residents.
"Most people turn on their radios or televisions, but if they are in bed asleep, or working outside, it gives them an opportunity to be warned," Stokes said. "We are more prepared now, then we were before."
The community has tried to make sure that doesn't happen again. On Wednesday a storm siren, perched atop a 50-foot utility pole, was placed in the Franklin Park.
"This is another milestone for us," said Craig Stokes, president of the Franklin Community Council, Inc.
Washington Electronics, Inc., installed the siren, and owner George Washington said that he hoped to have the siren functional by the end of the day. It is a Whelen Vortex R4.
"It's a 129 decibel siren, and it will give them the coverage this community needs," Washington said. "They should be able to hear this into the south end of Arma."
Washington said that the siren will rotate, providing good coverage for about a two-mile radius. "It's an electronic siren, but it can also operate on a battery," he said. "That's a big bonus, because in a storm, the power is usually one of the first things to go out."
Stokes said that, in time of need, the siren will be activated by the Crawford County Sheriff's Department.
"We really appreciate them doing this," Stokes said. "It's a very important public service."
Cost of the siren system is around $18,000. Stokes said that around 35 percent of that was covered by a Rural Development grant. "We had to come up with $11,500," he said.
Fortunately, $10,000 of that was provided by a donation from actor Paul Newman. Other donors have also contributed to the siren.
The siren will be tested around noon each Wednesday. "It's really going to be exciting the first time we test this," Stokes said.
He hopes that other area communities will be able to get storm sirens. "When you get that grant application, it's 29 pages long, and that can be scary," Stokes said. "But it can be done, and we hope this will pave the way for others to do it."
"It used to be that an area had to be incorporated to get these grants, but the grant process has opened up now," Washington added. "We've put in about a dozen sirens this year, and have about another dozen pending."
Phyllis Bitner was taking photos Wednesday as the siren was put up, and said she planned to send some of them to Paul Newman.
"I had written him before and told him that we planned to use his generous gift to protect our community with a storm siren," she said. "I'm going to write him again and him some pictures of the siren going up."
Bitner also plans to invite Newman to the Franklin community picnic
on May 28, when the siren will be dedicated. "I don't know that he'll
come," she said, "but we didn't know that he was going to give us
$10,000, either." Back to Top of Page