2008: Schools, subdivisions not covered by tornado sirens - WSMV News 4

2008: Schools, subdivisions not covered by tornado sirens

Updated: April 24, 2008 6:15 pm

Outside is where students want to be in spring, but for many of them it is also where they are the most vulnerable if a tornado should strike.

"What would you say if I told you your school isn't covered by a tornado siren?" asked I-Team Chief Investigator Jeremy Finley to a parent.

"You're kidding! That's terrible! That's horrible!" said Kathy Bryan. We need that out here for the safety of our children."

After Nashville saw widespread damage from tornadoes, the Channel 4 I-Team mapped out which areas are and aren't covered by tornado sirens in Davidson County.

What was found stunned parents, teachers and principals.

"It's a big concern, and it's the safety of a lot of children," said Teresa Dennis, principal at Ruby Major Elementary School.

The I-Team marked all of the county's 70 tornado sirens and drew a 1-1/2 mile radius around them - That's how far the sound of a siren travels.

Most of central Davidson County is covered, but go to the outskirts of the county and there are huge areas with no sirens at all. These areas are called dead zones.

The Channel 4 News I-Team found 10 schools in these zones, including West Meade Elementary.

There are in a little pocket of silence. No siren warns them.

"I have never heard it in the area," said West Meade Principal Steve Breece.

Then there's Ruby Major Elementary in Hermitage.

"We have never heard the siren," said Dennis. "The reality is we don't have them."

The school was built after the county's tornado sirens were placed.

Neither it, nor the new neighborhoods sprouting up around it, are alerted by a siren.

"Every cow field is now a subdivision," said Dennis.

If you think not that many people live in these rural dead zones, take a look at the sprawling subdivisions springing up everywhere. This is part of another real problem, as the number of tornado sirens haven't kept up with expanding neighborhoods.

Sirens are designed to be heard inside your home, but often in spring, families are outdoors in the yards and neighborhoods.

The I-Team found an estimated 37,893 homes in Davidson County not covered by sirens. That's nearly 20 percent of all homes in the county.

This is particularly concerning for Adrienne Fleming because a siren could be the only warning for her family.

"We have satellite TV too, so often our satellite often goes out in a storm," said Fleming, who lives in one of the county's dead zones.

Why isn't all of Davidson County covered? First, sirens are expensive. Just one can cost $20,000.

After the 1998 tornadoes, the Metro Office of Emergency Management received a grant for 70 sirens and put them in place in 2001.

They were put in places only to warn people outdoors, like in parks or stadiums.

But that was seven years ago and no new sirens have been added since.

"We did our very best to look at the county as a whole, where our greatest population, to have adequate outdoor warning," said Amanda Sluss, spokesperson for the Metro Office of Emergency Management.

More grant money would have to be obtained to get more sirens.

"When that money becomes available, we would definitely look at expanding our program, in being able to have it in all those areas that perhaps weren't as heavily populated in 2001," said Sluss.

It's why emergency officials urge people to own weather radios, as all Metro schools do, and keep them equipped with fresh batteries in case the power suddenly goes out and no sirens are nearby to signal a warning.

"Some of these storms come up quickly," said Bryan. "It would be awfully scary."

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