National Weather Service

Plano to Transition to ‘Wail-Only’ Outdoor Warning Sirens

The city previously used a voice messaging warning system

Plano will transition from an outdoor warning siren system that includes voice messaging to "wail-only" sirens for severe weather, the city said Monday.

Plano sounded its voice message warning Sunday night when spotters, police officers and residents reported a funnel cloud. The sirens produced a wailing noise followed by a prerecorded voice message, announcing a tornado warning.

"I can never understand what he’s saying - ever," said Plano resident Emma Abel. "Even when they’re testing it and it goes off, I can never understand it."

"We had people who would walk outside to hear what the message was, we had people that would call into dispatch to ask why, we would have people that would send us messages telling us it was gargled," said Plano's Director of Emergency Management Carrie Reyes. "They couldn’t hear what it said."

Reyes says the city began looking into a different system after the 2016 hail storm in Collin County because the outdoor warning siren's prerecorded messages didn't address "the full spectrum of hazards".

In September, the city began moving to new software and reprogramming all of its outdoor warning sirens. Reyes says the sirens are equipped with the new software, but all staff was not yet trained on the new "wail-only" method during Sunday's storms.

Reyes says the training will be complete by the time the next storm system hits. Residents can expect to hear a three minute wail from the sirens and no voice message. 

The siren system will be tested on the first Wednesday of the month, weather permitting. During the monthly test, the sirens will sound for one minute and announce test after the tone.

"We determined that the best route is to move to a wail-only system," said Reyes. "Our intent, anytime we sound the sirens, is the get people outdoors to go indoors and to seek more information."

The city is also adding six additional sirens in the city to increase coverage. Five have already been installed, said Reyes. The city will have a total of 39 outdoor warning sirens.

The city said there are three types of severe weather that would prompt it to sound the "wail-only" sirens: a tornado warning, hail larger than a half dollar and winds stronger than 70 mph.

When the decision is made to sound the sirens in Plano, they will go off across the city, as opposed to sounding in targeted locations, to alert all residents of the threat.

Sunday, the National Weather Service did not issue a tornado warning for Plano, but later confirmed there was a funnel cloud that did not touch down near Legacy Town Center.

Plano residents can sign up to receive alerts about why the sirens are going off by clicking here.

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