Bismarck outdoor warning system currently silent

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It’s been nearly 20 years since a tornado touched down within Bismarck city limits, but if the threat of a tornado happens soon, you may get silence — from the sirens.

It’s not a pleasant sound, but when a tornado is nearby and it’s time to seek shelter, it’s essential.

But right now, Bismarck’s 24 emergency warning sirens may not sound when the time comes.

Emergency officials say the sirens themselves work fine. It’s the radio communication from Emergency Management to the sirens that are broken. It’s like having a great running car with a bad starter.

“Well, it’s very frustrating, for me to have the system not work and then to communicate and say we need to get this fixed and then not get reports back,” said Bismarck Emergency Manager Gary Stockert.

He provided KX News with a document that shows in 2018, Bismarck had four siren failures.

That number increases dramatically in 2019 to nine failures of individual sirens — as well as four system-wide failures.

This year, 14 sirens have failed monthly tests and the last test in late May resulted in a complete system-wide failure.

Now when it comes to issuing warnings, the National Weather Service is typically at the top of the chain, issuing the warnings such as a tornado warning.

That message gets passed onto emergency managers, who push the magic button that sends a signal to turn on these sirens.

“We are now getting into the heart of our severe weather season, even this past weekend we had a tornado watch for the eastern part of the state, and we did have two confirmed tornadoes, one was around Ashley and one was near Kulm, so the sirens, getting that problem fixed as soon as possible is very important,” said John Paul Martin, the Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the Bismarck office of the NWS.

Now there could be some progress. Tuesday night, the Bismarck City Commission approved a plan to open bids to find a new vendor to replace Dakota Communications.

In the meantime, residents are strongly encouraged to have emergency alerts on your phone turned on and if you don’t have one, make sure you purchase an NOAA weather radio.

KX News reached out to the Bismarck City Attorney to find out if the city is liable, should someone be killed by a tornado while the system is down.

The response we got from Janelle Combs was “there is no legal obligation to provide an outdoor siren system in every city in the United States”.

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