Operator error leads to quiet sirens in southwestern Pierce County
A Pierce County dispatch operator's error led to alarms in the southwest corner of the county to remain silent when they should have been activated due to Thursday's storms.
The county attempted to activate sirens for Ellsworth and the set of Xcel Energy nuclear sirens it has discretion over for weather emergencies, but a dispatcher mistakenly set off only the Ellsworth alarms.
"The individual in the dispatch hit an incorrect button and it did not go off like it was supposed to," said Pierce County Emergency Management Director Gary Brown."It was an operator error situation."
The Xcel Energy sirens are located throughout the western and southwestern portions of the county and in place for nuclear emergencies typically, he said.
The county dispatch only has the discretion to control those sirens and Ellsworth sirens; other sirens throughout the county are generally activated once individual communities request it, Brown said. The other rural areas throughout the county have no sirens, but larger county communities — Elmwood, Spring Valley, Maiden Rock, Plum City and Ellsworth — do.
Officials from those areas typically communicate with dispatch before the alarms are activated, he said.
While alarm sirens are noticeable weather alert systems, Brown said they are "just one piece of the puzzle." He advocated for county residents to subscribe to its emergency phone system that notifies by phone, email and other methods; and he pushed for self responsibility.
"We're going to do the best we can," Brown said. "There's also the personal responsibility of watching T.V. and looking outside."
Thursday's storms swept across southern Minnesota and into west-central Wisconsin throughout the afternoon and evening. Area residents have reported tornado-like conditions, but the National Weather Service has yet to confirm tornadoes in the Pierce County area.
The service confirmed damage consistent with a tornado near Grenada, Minnesota, a small town of almost 300 people in the southern portion of the state, on Friday, but has yet to release further details on it or on Wisconsin-related tornadoes.
The weather organization has weather teams surveying the area to assess damage and make final determinations on tornado activity.