No cause for ‘alarm’

No tornado despite warning from sirens

By John Rech

The phones screamed at The Evening Times and the West Memphis Fire Department. People took cover as tornado sirens were heard throughout West Memphis Tuesday afternoon there was some good news and some bad news. The winds were whipping in West Memphis and it was warm before the rainstorm. A three county area was under a tornado watch in the afternoon. By contrast a tornado warning is issued only when storm spotters report a tornado or when meteorologists determine tornado activity on radar. In the wake of the storm a good news-bad news evaluation was offered. The good news is there was no tornado. While the city was in fact under a watch, no warning or twister was sighted. The warning sirens worked and were heard all around. The warning sounded for about five minutes. “The good news is they were heard all over,” said Assistant fire Chief Jeff Jones. “We had a report from near Military road in Marion that the sirens were heard.” The bad news was there was no tornado and the sirens sounded anyway. According to the Fire Chief the sirens were triggered at the city emergency call center when the area was just under a tornado watch. Chief Wayne Gately said it was a false alarm. “It was apparently triggered in the dispatch center,” said Gately as the sirens were sounding. A short while later Bud Spears, Crittenden County Office of Emergency Management Coordinator, offered a definitive answer. “They were training a dispatcher and set them off,” said Spears. “That’s really all that happened.” The city had struggled with a contractor for a year to complete installation of the all components of the new warning system. The work at the 911 dispatch center finished only last week. When the alarm went off it triggered reports to television stations which began broadcasting news of a tornado in West Memphis. The fire department acted quickly to stop the reports. “It’s a brand new system, of course, and there is two ways to activate it,” said Jones. “The dispatchers were just showing it to each other to make sure they knew what to do if we actually had a tornado and they activated it. We called all the T.V. stations right away to let them know it was a false alarm.”


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