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Emergency manager investigates why at least one Joplin outdoor storm siren failed last weekend

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Joplin, MO - Some Joplin residents may have noticed that at least one outdoor storm siren did not work during last weekend's tornado warning.  There's an investigation, of sorts, now underway to find out what happened.  But Joplin's emergency manager hopes this is a reminder to never fully trust one form of technology.

An electronic test shows all 35 outdoor storm sirens throughout the immediate Joplin area are working, as of early Monday morning.  But Joplin's emergency manager knows something may still be wrong.

"It's not unusual to have sirens fail," says emergency manager Keith Stammer.  "We have 35 sirens.  The batteries last about five years.  So on average, we're going to see about seven failures per year."

Such failure happened with a storm siren near Jim Riggen's home.  There was a tornado warning early Sunday morning.

"My wife was up, and she saw it on the news and then she heard other sirens going off, but not this one," says Riggen.

A storm siren on top of Memorial Hall may also have stopped working, along with the siren near Riggen at 26th and Jefferson.

Stammer says, "Even with the technology, you have to realize that what matters most is ground truth.  That is, what actually happened in the area?"

Stammer says he appreciated people letting him know the sirens didn't sound, because at 6 AM Saturday morning, and also shortly before the severe storms Saturday night, a computerized test, done wirelessly and silently, showed no problems.

"The most likely scenario is there's a bad battery.  There are four batteries in each unit, and it doesn't take much for one of them to fail.  Another option is perhaps there's a problem with the actual rotating motor itself.  And the third would be some type of circuit board problem, possibly a blown fuse," says Stammer.

The truth of the matter is, emergency officials can only be sure a siren will sound by sounding it.  The moral of the story, technology can fail.

It's important to have three different sources of weather alerts, like television, radio, outdoor sirens, and data capable cell phones with weather applications.  Jim Riggen considers outdoor sirens important, but he doesn't rely on them.

"We texted our daughter and some friends," says Riggen.

It never hurts to take care of other people, too.

Crews will check out the two sirens tomorrow.  They may be sounded for about forty seconds. 

Joplin's emergency manager also says new data shows the median date and time of severe weather events in Jasper County is May 22 at 5:30 PM.

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