By Joel Hall
For several years, the City of Jonesboro has had a manual warning system in place to alert residents to approaching tornados.
Earlier this month, the city installed a Storm Sentry system, a fully-automated warning system which also uses text-messaging technology to inform residents when tornados, or severe storms, approach.
Ed Wise, a former Jonesboro volunteer firefighter and the Southeast representative for the Sentry Siren company, installed the system three weeks ago, he said. Until recently, he said, the city's police had been tasked with manually activating the city's extreme-weather warning sirens.
"Somebody would have to come here [to the Jonesboro Police Department] and key in the code," Wise said. "There was always confusion and they [the police officer] might not even get the signal from the National Weather Service. Basically, what this does is takes the guess work out of it."
According to Wise, the Storm Sentry system connects Jonesboro's four warning sirens to a receiver that picks up severe weather information directly from a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite used by the National Weather Service.
If a tornado makes its way to the city limits of Jonesboro, Wise said, the receiver will send a message to an encoder which will automatically trigger the city's warning sirens, which are located at the Jonesboro Police Department, at Clayton County Fire Station 13 on North Main Street, at the Clayton County Public Schools bus maintenance facility on Stockbridge Road and at the Jonesboro Firehouse Museum and Community Center.
In addition, the system will automatically send a text message to any cell phone user on the city's warning list, alerting the user of an approaching tornado or a severe thunderstorm.
"We can still use our handheld radios to activate it [the siren], but this takes the human element out of it," Wise said. "Too much warning is not a bad thing. Most people have cell phones nowadays and keep them nearby. If you are outside working in the garden, you might not hear your weather radio."
Interim Jonesboro Police Chief Tim Jessup said the system will help keep vital police resources on the street in the case of severe weather.
"It's a great device in the name of public safety," Jessup said. "With the other [system], there was a whole manual process. [Police would] have to come in off the street and do it. This will be an automated process that will hopefully make the whole process a lot quicker."
Jonesboro's Storm Sentry system retails for approximately $12,000, Wise said, but was purchased at a reduced rate. He said that in the country, only four other cities, in Ohio, presently use the "relatively new" technology. Those are Litchfield, Columbus, Ashland, and Delaware, Ohio, Wise said.
Jonesboro's Storm Sentry text-messaging service is available only to residents living within the city limits. Those interested in subscribing to the warning system can call (678) 479-5711 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Standard text-messaging rates apply.