Why Ottawa Co. sounded sirens in Sunday storm

Ottawa County

ALLENDALE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — As Sunday night’s storm brought down trees and washed out roads in West Michigan, it wasn’t just what people saw that was concerning. In some cases, it was what they heard.

Officials in in Ottawa County decided to sound their outdoor warning sirens in their northeast quadrant, which includes Grand Valley State University, Allendale Township and Coopersville, though there was no apparent threat of a tornado.

“It’s good for the public to understand that it doesn’t have to be a tornado and most of the time, it probably won’t be a tornado,” Ottawa County Director of Emergency Management Nick Bonstell told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.

Instead, the sirens are often used in other situations, like hazardous materials incidents and when winds near 70 miles an hour, like gusts reported in Grand Haven Sunday.

Couple that with reports of trees down and storm damage, and the call was made at 10:19 p.m. to sound the northeast sirens as the storm moved inland.

“The data that we’re seeing at that time, we really only have seconds to react. … We’re always going to err on the side of being proactive. I would much rather have a conversation about being proactive than reactive,” Bonstell explained. “We just want to make sure that we’re doing right by our citizens and protecting them by giving them as much advanced notice as possible.”

By the time the storm reached Kent County, the winds had tapered off — at least slightly — and no sirens were activated. Allegan County sounded its alarms around 2:15 a.m. Monday, also for the threat of high winds.

“There currently is no national standard for outdoor warming siren systems through the National Weather Service,” Bonstell said. “So you’ll find that different counties do it different ways.”

Ottawa County is able to sound its sirens in specific quadrants and even individual cities, which be a major benefit. Some counties, including Kent, have to active all alarms in the county at once — even if weather conditions vary.

Bonstell said every time officials use the sirens, they will meet afterwards to debrief and make sure they’re using them as effectively as possible.

>>App users: Storm photos

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