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Emergency Warning System
When disaster strikes, you may have only a short time to make what might be a life or death decision. Even though it is rare, catastrophic events such as tornadoes or major chemical releases do occur. We cannot predict exactly where or when they will occur, but we can take precautions to minimize the danger.
One of the most important things you can do is to be aware that a danger is present. Most of the injuries and deaths happen to people who are unaware or uninformed. For this reason, it is crucial that you understand the warning system.
The Dane County Warning System
The Dane County warning system consists of multiple components. Dane County takes an "all-hazards" approach to public warning. This means that we use the same decision-making structure and alerting methods, regardless of the threat. Severe weather is far and away our most common threat, but it is not the only one we face.
There are 134 outdoor warning sirens in the Dane County siren system. The county is responsible for testing and warning activation of all of the sirens in the system. Sirens are sounded in reference to storm based warnings meaning that only the sirens located within the Warning Polygon issued by the National Weather Service will actually be activated.
The primary activation point of the county sirens is in the Dane County 911 Center, with backup capabilities in the County Emergency Management office. While tornado warnings are the most common cause for siren activation, the sirens should not be considered to be "tornado sirens." Outdoor warning sirens are designed to alert individuals who are outdoors of a possible hazard to your health or life safety. Sirens are not intended to alert people who are in cars, homes, or other buildings. Building practices have effectively reduced the sound penetration inside. If you hear an outdoor warning siren you should “Shelter, Shut and Listen”
- Shelter yourself, your family and your pets (if possible) inside away from the outside
- Shut and lock doors and windows.
- Listen to radio and tv broadcasts as well as other sources of official information to learn how long you should stay sheltered and if there is any additional action you should take.
“Where can I call for more info?”
Don’t call us, we’ll call you if needed. Also, please do not call 911 for further information unless you have a life threatening emergency. 911 is not an information line and tying up these lines into dispatch centers only hamper first responders ability to handle the emergency.
“What else can I do?”
Radio and television broadcasts are usually the best source of ongoing information about major emergencies. Be aware, though, that different stations and channels sevre different areas and have different staffing levels. You may need to tune around a bit to find information for your particular area.
Sirens can also be very susceptible to disruptions in the electrical power supply. A majority of the sirens operate on power supplied by local utilities. Power failures, which are common during thunderstorms, can disable a siren. In addition, lightning striking a nearby power line can blow fuses in the siren itself. This will also disable the unit until the fuses can be replaced.
You can view a map indicating siren coverage under ideal conditions.
What is NOAA All-Hazards Radio?
A NOAA All-Hazards radio receives broadcasts exclusively from the National Weather Service. The radio can provide rapid warning, direct from the source, when hazardous weather conditions pose a threat to life and property. It is also an "all-hazards" warning system, used not only for immediate flood or tornado related events, but also hazardous materials releases or other localized hazards. The radio receivers behave like smoke detectors, silently monitoring, and then alerting people to the initial warning message immediately upon receipt, providing more time to respond to the event.
In addition, this radio is programmable, allowing the user to set it up to alert for only the event types and locations they are concerned about. Older type weather alert radios did not have this feature but with the programmable features of this radio, this is no longer an issue.
See http://www.crh.noaa.gov/mkx/?n=nwr for more information on the NOAA Weather Radio system.
Why should you purchase a NOAA All-Hazards Radio?
We recommend every household have an all-hazards radio. However, to help people decide, we are providing the following information and suggesting people ask themselves these questions:
How do you receive severe weather and other public warnings now? Many people would say they receive these alerts from the outdoor sirens or from warnings broadcast on local television or radio. Are these sources always completely reliable?
Can you always hear the sirens when they are sounded? Indoors? At night, with the windows closed and the air conditioner on? Is the siren loud enough to wake you up when you are sleeping? Is your home within the effective range of a siren?
Likewise, local television and radio is a great way to receive up-to-date warning information, but it works only if your radio or TV is on and tuned to the right station. Again, what about at night when you are sleeping? Or when you happen to be watching a cable or satellite channel that does not carry the local warning information. In those cases, you are very likely to miss the warning.
A NOAA All-Hazards Radio, on the other hand, is designed to be an indoor warning device. It is always on and it will wake you up if you are sleeping.
Do you have a smoke detector? Of course - it alerts you when it detects smoke. An all-hazards radio will alert you to many other immediate, life-threatening hazards in your area, like tornados, floods, and other dangerous events. Without this device, you could miss a critical warning message that could save your life and those in your family.
NOAA Weather Radios are available through local electronics stores as well as from a large number of sources on the internet.
Emergency Telephone Notification
Dane County has the capability to do a mass notification to citizens by an emergency telephone notification system.
How does Emergency Telephone Notification work?
The Emergency Telephone Notification system allows the County to rapidly notify residents and businesses by telephone.
In the event of an emergency, an authorized operator can identify the affected neighborhood or region of the County and record a message that describes the situation and recommends the protective actions residents should take. The Emergency Telephone Notification system will automatically call out to all phone numbers in our database within that geographic area and deliver the recorded message. If phone lines are busy, the system will attempt to redial those numbers a predetermined number of times to make contact. If an answering machine picks up the call, the emergency message will be left on the machine.
Emergency Telephone Notification System Limitations
As with any component of the warning system, the Emergency Telephone Notification system has limitations. Cell phone numbers are not included in the database. Cell phone numbers can be manually entered into the system if provided by the holder of that number.
How will the system be used?
Possible uses include:
- Hazardous materials release. An airborne hazardous materials release or potential for a release where there is a need for residents to evacuate or shelter-in-place.
- Community policing. Local police departments and the Dane County Sheriff's Department may use the system for a variety of community policing situations, such as missing children alerts or prisoner escape.
- Public health alerts. Dane County and the City of Madison public health departments may use the system to disseminate public health information such as boil water alerts or outbreak of infectious disease.
Emergency Alert System
The Emergency Alert System (EAS), adopted in 1997 is the successor to the old Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). The Emergency Alert System is composed of AM, FM, and television broadcast stations as well as cable television, operating in cooperation with local authorities to provide uniform and consistent information in an emergency.
You can recognize an EAS message from the distinctive tone that begins each broadcast. The announcer will also identify the broadcast as an activation of the Emergency Alert System.
In an emergency, you should stay tuned to participating EAS stations to receive emergency warnings and situation updates.
Broadcast Television and Radio
Broadcast television and radio stations are a vital component of our warning system. Local television and radio stations routinely broadcast official "Watches" and "Warnings" issued by the National Weather Service as well as forecasts and storm tracks developed by on-air meteorologists. Television, in particular, is an excellent source of emergency information since graphics such as radar displays and maps can be used to describe the event in detail.
Broadcast television and radio, while being an excellent source of information, have one major disadvantage as a means of receiving warning. Your radio or television has to be on and you have to be able to hear it or see it. You should not rely on broadcast television or radio as your sole source of emergency warning.
The Internet offers a nearly inexhaustible source of information concerning storm warnings and severe weather forecasting. Please be aware that Internet sources of warning are not as dependable as the other systems referenced in this document. Information received from sources on the Internet is subject to delays and may not arrive soon enough to provide an adequate warning. In addition, your ability to receive information through the Internet requires the operation of numerous systems, some of which are completely beyond our control. The Internet should be considered as an additional source of information and should not be considered as the primary source of emergency warning for life-threatening events.
Wireless Emergency Alerts on Your Mobile Device
The Wireless Emergency Alert system is a national emergency alert system established through partnership between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and wireless industry carriers. The system is designed to allow emergency managers to send concise, text based messages to Wireless Emergency Alert system capable devices.
Mobile users will not be charged for receiving these alerts and are automatically enrolled to receive them. While these alerts will appear on a person’s mobile device similar to a text message, Wireless Emergency Alerts are not text messages. Wireless Emergency Alerts use a different technology to ensure they are delivered immediately and are not subject to congestion or delays on wireless networks. The message will appear similar to a popup message and will have a unique ring tone and vibration. For technical reasons, the message length is limited to a maximum of 90 characters.
In addition, Wireless Emergency Alerts are sent to all capable devices within an targeted geographic area. This assures that people in the area of the emergency will be rapidly alerted, while not alarming people that are not at risk.
There are three kinds of alerts that can be issued over the Wireless Emergency Alert system:
- National level alerts issued by the President.
- Local imminent threat alerts that include severe man made or natural disasters such as tornadoes or floods where an immediate threat to life or property exists.
- AMBER alerts that meet the US Department of Justice’s criteria to help law enforcement search for and locate an abducted child.
For more information, visit the FCC or FEMA websites at:
Check with your wireless carrier to confirm that your device is capable of receiving these alerts. Additional information on the wireless industry’s participation can be found at:
Additional Information from the National Weather Service:
Warning System Recommendations
Dane County uses a combination of methods for alerting the public when disaster threatens. We recognize that no one application can provide warning to all citizens. As a result, we take a systematic approach, understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each component.
The warning system can only be effective if you understand the benefits and limitations of the alerting methods available. There are a great deal of warning devices and methods available to you. We recommend that you take advantage of as many of them as possible. No one warning method is perfect and no one warning method can be guaranteed never to fail. By relying on one single method, such as the sounding of the outdoor warning sirens or the receiving information solely from broadcast meteorologists, you risk missing a warning if that system fails. By taking a systematic approach and getting information from more than one source, you are much more likely to receive the warning, even if there is a failure in one of the components.
We strongly recommend that you consider the following:
- Purchase a weather alert radio if you don't already have one.
- Subscribe to a wireless email alerting system to receive alerts on your cell phone. http://dane.alertingsolutions.net
- Rely on the sirens only for outdoor warning.
- Turn to broadcast radio or television for details and follow-up information.
Create an ‘emergency information kit’ and prepare yourself to receive as much information about an incident as possible: