Tornado warning siren fails in Lake Odessa

Citizens can sign up for Smart911 program to get emergency alerts

Lake Odessa, tornado siren
The tornado siren in Lake Odessa. (April 11, 2017)


LAKE ODESSA, Mich. (WOOD) — It was a close call for residents of Lake Odessa Monday evening. The tornado that developed along the Kent-Ionia County border cut just to the north and west of the village.

But the town’s early warning system, the tornado siren, never sounded the alert.

“We were actually sitting outside when the rain started. We went back inside. We weren’t watching the TV so we didn’t know anything was even going on other than the watches we’d gotten from the news channels,” Lake Odessa resident Courtney Whitaker said.

As the mother of a child with special medical needs, having extra time to prepare for events, including emergencies, is important to Whitaker.

But when the brunt of the storm hit just a few miles to the west Monday evening, there were no warning sirens in Lake Odessa.

Fortunately, Whitaker had her cellphone nearby.

“I heard the emergency alerts go off from News 8 first,” she said. “If this would have happened four hours earlier during a school event and the alarm didn’t go off right away and they didn’t catch it right away, they didn’t see it on their phones, it might have been too late.”

The problem was on Lake Odessa’s side of things. Local police say a radio receiver that activates the siren from the county 911 center failed.

“It’s a radio signal that triggers all the surrounding tornado sirens in Ionia County. The radio itself inside the siren is what failed,” Lake Odessa Police Department Officer Brent Listerman explained.

The system was repaired Tuesday morning.

Ionia County Central Dispatch activates sirens in Lake Odessa, along with those in the cities of Belding, Portland and Ionia, and in Orleans Township. Dispatch officials say it appears the remainder of the county sirens sounded correctly Monday night.

Firefighters in Clarksville, Saranac, Lyons and Muir drive to their fire halls to activate their sirens.

911 PROGRAM CAN ALERT RESIDENTS TO EMERGENCY

But the experts say sirens are not always the best way to warn people, especially if they are inside their home or another building.

Ionia County Central Dispatch offers another option to alert residents of emergencies. A voluntary program called Smart911 allows residents to provide specific information on their household. It’s stored in the 911 database so dispatchers can save time if you call in an emergency.

The system also offers an option for widespread emergencies, like a tornado warning, called RAVE alerts.

“What this is, is a mass notification system,” Ionia County Central Dispatch Director Jim Valentine explained.

If your profile is in the Smart911 system, a few clicks of the mouse signs you up for RAVE.

“Anyone who’s opted in, they can receive a text message, a voice message or an email, or all three,” Valentine said. “And it automatically calls all the land lines in the county.”

Dispatchers can also limit the messages to specific sections of the county, so if an emergency in one part of the county is not impacting another section, only the affected residents will get an alert.

Ionia County has offered the Smart911 system since 2013.

The Kent County Dispatch Authority announced Tuesday that it is also implementing Smart911. You can sign up for the program online.