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Oklahoma City rolls out new tornado warning system

Oklahoma City officials are reminding residents that when they hear a tornado siren this spring, it's time to take shelter.

Under the city's new tornado policy, sirens will only sound in parts of the city where a tornado threat exists rather than citywide. The change means that residents who hear a tornado siren are in immediate danger, said Lt. Frank Barnes, the city's emergency manager.

Under the old policy, all city residents heard a siren anytime any part of the city was covered by a tornado warning. The new policy divides the city into nine sectors. When a tornado warning is issued in a part of the city, sirens will only sound in that sector.

That change is meant to cut down on unnecessary warnings, Barnes said. Oklahoma City covers 620 square miles, so it's not often that the entire city is under a tornado threat. Under the old system, if a tornado warning was issued for southern Oklahoma City and Moore, people miles away in northern Oklahoma City would hear a siren, even though they weren't under any threat.

Because the old warnings were so broad, many people either complained about being warned unnecessarily or ignored the sirens, Barnes said.

“It was very clear that they did not like the county-based warnings that they were getting and they wanted a more localized warning," Barnes said.

The Oklahoma City Council adopted the new policy in December, and Barnes said the new system has been fully functional since Feb. 12. The city hasn't seen any tornadoes since then, so the new system hasn't been used, Barnes said.

“We'd like to see if it works, but we don't want any of the death and destruction that comes with it," he said.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›