Hennepin County, Ramsey County, and many other counties in Minnesota have outdoor emergency sirens.
If the tornado sirens are sounding as you are reading this, find out immediately about the best place to seek shelter from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
If the tornado sirens are not sounding, and you are interested in learning more about the sirens, when they are sounded, and what to listen out for, then read on.
The sirens are designed to be sounded in the event of tornadoes, severe thunder or lightning storms, hazardous-material spills, power-plant malfunctions, terrorism, and other emergencies threatening the area.
The most common reason for the emergency sirens to be sounded is because of a tornado sighting or tornado warning.
Tornado Siren vs Emergency Siren
The first signal is used for tornadoes and severe, hazardous weather. The tornado siren has a steady tone.
The second signal is used for other types of emergencies. It has a warbling sound.
When the Sirens Are Tested
Sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of each month. The sirens are tested to verify normal operation, and to familiarize residents with the sound of the siren.
Sirens make two different sounds, and both are sounded during a test. The sirens are tested every month, all year round. Historically the sirens were only tested in the summer, but with recent terrorist concerns and the potential need to respond to other emergencies, they are now tested every month in the winter, too.
What to Do If You Hear a Siren
If the steady-sound tornado siren is activated, take shelter—in the basement, a small interior room at your home, to a designated tornado shelter, or another safe place.
If the other emergency, the warbling siren is sounding, turn on a local TV or radio station to find out the nature of the emergency before taking action. You may not want to automatically take to the basement; the sirens can sound to warn of flash floods.
A battery operated radio is preferable, and every home should have one. It's safer in a lighting storm, more reliable in a power outage, and can be taken with you to a shelter if necessary.
Local television and radio will broadcast advice on what action to take. It's best to get informed before a disaster happens: The Minnesota Department of Public Safely, DPS, has prepared guidelines for what to do in tornadoes, floods, or other severe weather.
The Red Cross also has lots of information about what to do in emergencies.
How to Prepare
Every house should have a disaster plan and an emergency kit.
Will the Emergency Sirens Sound for Every Emergency?
No. Don't rely on the sirens to sound in every emergency.
The sirens are designed to alert people who are outdoors and may not be audible inside buildings. It is assumed that people inside buildings will hear a warning on radio or television.
In a very sudden emergency, there may not be enough time to sound the sirens. Or, a disaster that affects the emergency sirens can also prevent them from being sounded.
Who Operates the Emergency Sirens?
The sirens are owned by the city they are located in, but the decision to sound the siren is taken by a county official.
In an emergency, the county's incident commander—the police chief, sheriff, or county emergency manager—makes the decision to sound the sirens.