Sheriff's Corner: How the severe weather warning system works in Cass County
The Cass County Sheriff's Office has recently received some questions concerning the use of weather sirens. This month, we would like to take the opportunity to talk about severe weather warning systems and our role and response in these situations.
In Cass County, the Weather Warn System is located in our Dispatch Center and will automatically activate the appropriate sirens when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or when the National Weather Service issues wind warnings with wind speeds at or above 70 mph. These warnings are activated directly from information received from the National Weather Service and will cycle the sirens automatically every 20 minutes while the tornado warning or extreme wind warning is active. If this automatic system fails, dispatch can set off the sirens manually or in the event of an incident without warning from the weather service, which occasionally does happen as storms come up quickly, as experienced in the city of Bemidji on the Fourth of July. The sirens within Cass County are owned and maintained by jurisdictions in which they are located. The Cass County weather sirens are split between the northern and southern parts of the county. There is also a separate area for the eastern side by Outing. The sirens sound in the area where the severe weather is located. Example: If severe weather is located within the northern half of the county, the sirens will sound in the northern half of the county. The sirens are not set off for individual cities; they are by area only.
Cass County currently has 24 weather sirens located throughout the entire county. Our Dispatch Center has control of 28 sirens (two in Beltrami County and two in Itasca County), 13 of the 28 are owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the other 15 are owned by either a city or township. A warning means a dangerous weather or event is occurring or imminent, likely significant threats to life or property and take protective action immediately. Sirens are designed as an outdoor warning system to advise people to go inside and get more information. We recommend that you have multiple weather warnings or weather information sources and not just rely on sirens for the information, as you may be out of range of the siren or inside a building and may not hear it. Investing in a weather radio is highly recommended. A common misnomer is that there is no "all clear" siren warning. We will not utilize the sirens to indicate an all-clear, just to indicate a warning has been issued. In the event of serious weather, our deputies are able to monitor situations from several various spots around the County. Observations and information is then shared with neighboring counties and the National Weather Service. After a severe weather situation, we attempt to respond to the areas to determine damages, injuries, etc., and to make a determination if additional resources are needed for fire hazards, clearing roadways, etc. Unfortunately, these routines have been very common the past few summers and we are hoping for a much less severe weather filled season!
Cass County also uses Nixle to inform citizens of emergency situations. Launched in 2007, Nixle provides an open communication forum that connects public safety, municipalities, schools, businesses and the communities they serve. In Cass County, Nixle alerts are sent through text and email. If you would like to receive Nixle alerts, go to www.nixle.com/ to opt-in.
Each spring, the Cass County Sheriff's Office Emergency Management Division hosts two Skywarn Storm Spotter trainings, in conjunction with local partners. The classes are held to coincide with Minnesota's Severe Weather Awareness Week. An informed community makes for a more resilient community and the Skywarn program helps build a cooperative relationship between the National Weather Service and the community, which assists in the receipt and effective distribution of weather information. These classes are free, are two hours long and cover the following topics:
• Basics of thunderstorm development
• Fundamentals of storm structure
• Identifying potential severe weather features
• Information to report
• How to report information
• Basic severe weather safety
If you have any questions about Nixle, the Skywarn Storm Spotter trainings or Emergency Management in general, you can contact Deputy Chad Emery, Emergency Management Coordinator, at 218-547-7437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: by email: at email@example.com; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; and by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.