OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa City Council held a special meeting Monday, and included in the agenda was a work session item that could greatly impact the safety of Ottumwans during strong storms.
Although there were very high wind speeds during the April 27 storms, the sirens did not sound. Under the current warning system policy, the sirens will go off only if the Ottumwa area is placed under a tornado warning by the National Weather Service or if a certified NWS spotter confirms seeing a tornado.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Wapello County Emergency Management Coordinator Josh Stevens was on hand to explain the warning system and provide ways to expand its effectiveness.
He said communities are starting to include hail 1.75 inches or larger and wind that is estimated at 70 mph into the emergency system protocol. Since 2011—not including the storms that caused the sirens to go off three times on Sunday — the sirens in Ottumwa would have been triggered eight more times if the policy would have included the hail and high wind factors.
Although updating the warning system could help make Ottumwans aware of dangerous weather in the area, Ottumwa Police Chief Tom McAndrew said it is still up to the citizens to keep themselves safe. Also, he said residents should not mistake a second siren as an “all clear” signal.
“If there is a siren, take cover,” he said. “There is no ‘all clear’ siren. If the siren sounds a second time, it’s because there is another warning.”
Stevens will work with other public safety officials to write a formal proposal for the expansion of the warning system that will be brought back to the City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 20.
In other items of business, the council discussed the possibility of changing the color of the Market Street Bridge.