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Alert system remains unchanged

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Although the National Weather Service (NWS) recently changed its method of delivering severe weather information, St. Croix County is staying with the traditional system.

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The new approach by NWS is a storm-based notification versus the county-based notification that has long been their practice.

The new storm-based notification is geared to areas with larger geographic counties, according to Casey Swetlik, director of Emergency Communications for St. Croix County.

Swetlik explained that storm-based information will narrow down an area that will most likely be affected by an approaching storm or strong weather pattern.

"Now the National Weather Service will provide us with county landmarks associated with specific areas of the county," Swetlik said. "For instance, they may say a storm is just south of a certain road and heading toward the Houlton area."

While this information is helpful in pinpointing exact areas that may need to prepare for severe weather, it may cause confusion for the residents of St. Croix County, Swetlik said.

"The media will continue to run watches and warnings for counties as a whole, rather than certain areas," Swetlik said. "In my mind, this could cause residents confusion if they live in Roberts and wonder why their siren is not going off when the media has the entire county under a warning."

The Emergency Communications Department of St. Croix County has chosen to sound all 25 sirens in the county with a long constant blast if a warning or watch is issued by NWS for any part of the county.

"The National Weather Service's new system provides better accuracy for a county such as Pine County, Minn. that is large and less populated than St. Croix," Swetlik said. "But for St. Croix, the last thing we want to do is confuse people in a time when it is crucial to be informed."

Sticking with the traditional way of notification is not going against a trend.

"The National Weather Service is still allowing counties to alert the way they want to," Swetlik said. "Their change isn't mandatory for counties, it's just new."

When the sirens sound

The question still remains "what do I do when a siren goes off?" Many people assume they need to seek shelter immediately or that a severe storm is imminent. That is not always the case, according to Swetlik.

The outside warning sirens are just that -- warnings, Swetlik explained.

"The purpose of the sirens is to get people inside to tune in to what is going on," Swetlik said. "We want people to find out what is happening when they hear the sirens by turning on radios or televisions."

Use of the outside warning sirens is 90 percent weather related. The other 10 percent could be any number of emergencies, which again would require people to tune in to find out what is going on.

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