New outdoor warning siren system to be tested Wednesday, Thursday in Cerro Gordo County

MASON CITY — If you hear outdoor warning sirens the next few days in Cerro Gordo County, don’t be alarmed. The Cerro Gordo County Emergency Management Agency is testing the 33 new outdoor warning sirens that were recently installed throughout the county.

County Emergency Management Coordinator Eric Whipple says the testing culminates a five-year process of replacing the sirens started by Whipple’s predecessor Steve O’Neil. Whipple says most of the cost of the sirens was covered by a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant.  “He applied for a grant which we were eventually awarded for nearly $1.1 million from a FEMA grant to upgrade and install even some brand new sirens in locations that didn’t even have them across the county. 33 sirens in total, close to a $1.1 million grant that covered pretty much 99% of the funding of the program.”

Whipple says the project is an improvement from the previous outdoor warning system and it standarizes its management from the county’s communications center.  “It’s an upgrade in technology, and it’s also something that we could standardize across the county. Each community was kind of using a different siren maybe, a different system to activate, so this kind of streamlines the process for our dispatchers and our storm spotters when we need to activate the sirens, they are going pretty much automatically and almost hands-free with some new technology that’s come across the books here for the sirens, so it’s something we’re looking forward to.”

Whipple says they hope to test all 33 sirens on Wednesday, but if they don’t get to all of them, they will test the rest on Thursday.  “If you hear a siren going off, an outdoor warning siren, that’s just us testing them, making sure that the program is up and running and ready to go for severe weather this coming spring.”

Whipple reminds everyone that the outdoor warning siren system is just that — it’s meant to warn people who are outdoors, not indoors.  “It is a good reminder that these are outdoor warning sirens. They are not meant to be heard indoors, unless you are obviously close to them. It’s meant to alert the public who are outdoors doing outdoor activities to seek shelter, and don’t expect to hear them indoors. What I would recommend is purchasing a NOAA weather radio or having multiple means of receiving warnings to alert your family to take shelter.”

Whipple says besides replacing the old sirens, there have been a few new places in Mason City that have had the sirens installed as part of the updated system.