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Different communities, different reasons to sound storm sirens

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TEXOMA – It is a sound you only hear when danger is near, the storm sirens usually indicating severe weather.  But it depends on what city or town you're in if you want to know what that severe weather is.

Each city and town develops its own criteria.  Some cities use wind speeds while others, such as Altus, mainly rely on information from spotters in the field.  But other than the desire to save lives and keep residents safe, there is no common denominator amongst the communities when it comes to sounding the sirens.

Doug Speheger, an official with the National Weather Service (NWS), says there is no standardized system because every community is different.  Comanche County Emergency Manager Clint Wagstaff says the sirens in the county have spinning heads and they help to spread the signal to as many people as possible.

"During any storms we sound sirens.  We sound them to get people off streets," said Wagstaff.

Speheger has 17 years with the NWS, and he says the system helps, but is flawed.  He says often communities are close together and with each sounding sirens whenever each deems it necessary can be confusing.

"I know that's one thing they were trying to do up in OKC, was make standardization because all the communities are so close together.  You can hear sirens from [other communities]," said Speheger.

"When cities and towns are close together like that, it's maybe good to have a consolidated plan, what they been working on up there," said Wagstaff.

So it seems there is no right answer across for every community.

"We play a role and give advice to emergency managers and city governments.  But when it comes down to it, it's serving whatever the local needs are," said Speheger.

And that is what emergency managers like Wagstaff do.  He and his staff get information from several sources, the NWS, weather radar, and spotters.  The main criteria for Comanche County are wind speeds of 65 mph or more.

"A couple years ago we had funnels sighted on the southwest part of town and they moved toward Lawton and we sounded the sirens and hopefully people paid attention and went inside," said Wagstaff.

Wagstaff says Lawton's sirens are sounded until the threat is over in 5-minute increments.  He says, unlike a lot of communities, they do not have an all-clear siren.  They just stop sounding them when the threat is over.

If you would like to know what criteria your community has for sounding weather sirens, you should contact your local emergency manager or fire department.

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