Police Explain Decision to Sound Emergency Alert Sirens in Waukesha

Emergency Alert Sirens blared through Waukesha Thursday night, despite little threat for a tornado in the area.

The Police Department says it made the decision to protect thousands of people at Waukesha County Fair from extreme winds.

     "We could see the line of this storm continuing to be severe as it approached," says Police Supervisor Brian Jansen. 

That same storm killed two people in a Minnesota forest earlier in the day. Jansen says it's a common misconception that the sirens are only used when a tornado is in the area.

     "We don't want to cry wolf, but we also don't want to be afraid to activate our warning sirens because somebody might be upset that we sounded them," he says. "It's a balancing act."

In Waukesha County, each individual city, village, and town controls its own emergency alert sirens, minus a handful that are run by county dispatch. 

Those sirens were sounded in the Town of Brookfield, Village of Butler, Village of Eagle, Village of Merton, North Lake, Okauchee, Village of Pewaukee, Stone Bank, and Village of Sussex.

     "The winds were going to be sustained above 65 miles-per-hour, that's one of those agreed-upon trigger points to let everyone know who is outside to seek shelter," says Emergency Preparedness Director Gary Bell.

Some counties in Wisconsin utilize a county emergency alert system, where sirens are all controlled at one location. Bell says there are advantages, and disadvantages, to a county-wide system.

     "Would it be easier? Sure, if we all had a set of standards and understood it. But that takes a lot of effort and coordination," he says. 

Jansen says it's always a difficult decision to sound the alarm, especially with winds between 55-65 MPH.

     "Some agencies might decide nope, we don't think it's bad enough, we're going to hold off. And others are saying there's a lot of damage associated with this storm, we want to get the warning out and get people aware of the situation," he says. 

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