The past couple of weeks our area has seen several instances of dangerous weather and has been subject to many watches, warnings and advisories, as well as siren activations. We get several questions about how various warning systems work and what the protocols are, especially during and after these events. Although we are hopefully nearing the end of severe weather season, we would like to remind our readers about the systems that we utilize.

In Cass County, the Weather Warn System is located in our Dispatch Center and connected to the National Weather Service. This system automatically activates the appropriate sirens when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or when the National Weather Service issues wind warnings with wind speeds at or above 70 MPH. These warnings are activated directly from information received from the National Weather Service and will cycle the sirens automatically every 20 minutes while the tornado warning or extreme wind warning is active. If this automatic system fails or in the event of an incident without a weather service warning, dispatch can set off the sirens manually.

The sirens within Cass County are owned and maintained by the jurisdictions in which they are located. The Cass County weather sirens are split between the northern and southern parts of the county and there is also a separate area for the eastern side by Outing. The sirens sound in the area where the severe weather is located.

For example, if severe weather is located within the northern half of the county, the sirens will sound in the northern half of the county.  The sirens are not set off for individual cities; they are by area only. The county geographical area is large, so you may be subject to hearing a siren even though you may not be in a direct threat; however, it will alert that severe weather is in the immediate area and to be cautious.

Cass County currently has 24 weather sirens located throughout the entire county. Our Dispatch Center has control of 28 sirens (two in Beltrami and two in Itasca). Thirteen of the 28 are owned by the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and the other 15 are owned by either a city or township.

A warning means that a dangerous weather event is occurring or imminent, there is likely significant threats to life or property and you need take protective action immediately. Sirens are designed as an outdoor warning system to advise people to go inside and get more information. We recommend that you have multiple weather warnings or weather information sources and not just rely on sirens for the information, as you may be out of range of the siren or inside a building and may not hear it.  Investing in a weather radio is also highly recommended.

In the event of serious weather, our deputies are able to monitor situations from several spots around the county.  Observations and information are then shared with neighboring counties and the National Weather Service. After a severe weather situation, we attempt to respond to the areas to determine damages, injuries, etc and to make a determination if additional resources are needed for fire hazards, clearing roadways, etc.

Cass County also uses Nixle to inform citizens of emergency situations. Launched in 2007, Nixle provides an open communication forum that connects public safety, municipalities, schools, businesses and the communities they serve.  In Cass County, Nixle alerts are sent through text and e-mail. If you would like to receive Nixle alerts, go to http://www.nixle.com/ to opt-in.

Each spring, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Management Division hosts two Skywarn Storm Spotter trainings, in conjunction with local partners. The classes are held to coincide with Minnesota’s Severe Weather Awareness Week. An informed community makes for a more resilient community and the Skywarn program helps build a cooperative relationship between the National Weather Service and the community, which assists in the receipt and effective distribution of weather information.  These classes are free, are two hours long and cover several weather topics.

We also strongly encourage you to have your own source of weather information handy. Common uses are TV, cell phone or NOAA weather radio.

If you have any questions about Nixle, the Skywarn Storm Spotter trainings or Emergency Management in general, you can contact Deputy Chad Emery, Emergency Management Coordinator at 218-547-7437 or chad.emery@co.cass.mn.us

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, contact me anytime: e-mail tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us; call (218) 547-1424  or (800) 450-2677; or mail Cass County Sheriff’s Office, 303 Minnesota Ave W, P.O. Box 1119, Walker, MN 56484

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