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County prepping for severe weather

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With the possibility of severe weather today, Kanawha County officials are asking residents to make sure they are prepared - whether it occurs now or later.

Sever storms predicited for state:

In Kanawha and Putnam counties, government officials have continued to work to improve communication of emergency alerts to local residents. Probably one of the more noticeable changes from a year ago is the addition of more emergency sirens that are able to project voice alerts in addition to a typical siren tone.

"We're always improving," said C.W. Sigman, deputy emergency manager for Kanawha County.

The bulk of the newer sirens are in communities along the Kanawha River, from Montgomery to Winfield. Additional sirens are located along the I-64 corridor in Putnam County.

The voice sirens make use of pre-recorded messages that give simple, but more detailed information about why the siren has been activated, such as, "There is a severe weather emergency," or "An evacuation of this area has been requested."

The sirens are also capable of being activated individually, with specialized messages for the siren's location. For example, Sigman said that there is a pre-recorded message for an active shooter emergency for the siren located by West Virginia State University.

Sigman said that the sirens, particularly the voice messages, are best heard outside. The siren tone can be heard the farthest away. He said that the original warning sirens were put in place because of potential emergencies at chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley.

"People used to think that meant 'shelter-in-place,' " he said. "It's just a general warning siren."

In areas not covered by the latest sirens, like Elkview, Clendenin and the area around the Tyler Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, existing emergency sirens will still be activated.

The new sirens complement a growing number of ways people can receive weather and other emergency alerts, and that is particularly important for rural areas where the sirens can't be heard.

"There's a lot of redundancy built into the system," Sigman said, adding that the redundancy helps to alert as many people as possible.

For example, after last year's derecho, the Kanawha County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, as well as other county and municipal governments, made extensive use of social media to get information to area residents.

"People act well if they have the right information," Sigman said.

Another new way alerts are broadcast is through the "Wireless Emergency Alerts" system, which has been rolled out by several federal agencies and wireless carriers over the past year.

In the WES system, unique alerts are sent to capable wireless devices automatically using the location of the phone, and include three types of alerts: weather alerts, AMBER alerts and "Presidential Alerts," which are issued by the president of the United States.

Some smartphone apps, like the Accuweather app for iPhone and Android, can also be set to issue pop-up alerts on the user's device.

 And of course, local newspaper and television stations will distribute information from their outlets. Radio stations that will broadcast emergency alerts include WCHS (580 AM), WCAW (680 AM), WSCW (1410 AM), WKWS (96.1 FM), WVAF (99.9 FM), WBES (95.4 FM), WQBE (950 AM and 97.5 FM), WVSR (102.7 FM) and WKAZ (107.3 FM).

Sigman said the most important lesson for local residents to take from last year is not to ignore severe weather alerts.

"A valuable lesson we learned last year . . . is don't take a severe thunderstorm watch lightly," he said.

The sirens are to be tested at noon on the fourth Wednesday of every month. Sigman said residents are asked to contact the Kanawha County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management if they are normally able to hear the siren but do not on the day of the test.

Contact writer Matt Murphy at or 304-348-4817.



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