COVINGTON, Ky. – While severe weather struck parts of the Tri-State on March 1, tornado sirens in Kenton County didn’t go off, and residents flooded their communications center with phone calls.
They were told there was no tornado warning for Kenton County.
But that was wrong.
Kenton did have a tornado warning, but the communications center didn't get the message.
Why? The red flag was missing, and a perfect storm of oversights and omissions.
While confirmed tornadoes hit across the river in Anderson Township, Pierce Township and Highland County, a warning for Kenton County should have flashed in red on dispatch computers and an alarm should have sounded.
Center Director Tommy Thompson explained why that didn't happen.
“The National Weather Service changed their font going to Frankfort, and Frankfort didn't do the proper decoding and as a result it didn't filter down to us,” Thompson said.
So there was no red flag. And that wasn’t all:
- The one operating weather radio in the communications center didn't get the alert. The other radio was in storage.
- Televisions were on the wrong channels to receive local weather reports.
- And cell phone alerts contradicted one another.
“With the cellular carriers, I believe one didn’t have an alert and another did,” Thompson said.
The problem with the alert from Frankfort has been fixed, and lots of changes have been made in the Kenton County Communications Center.
- One TV is now on The Weather Channel, the other on local news.
- Two weather radios sit side-by-side.
- Dispatchers have had refresher courses.
”The focus of the retraining is letting each dispatcher demonstrate competency in sounding the siren as well as if the siren should go off-line, they can go to the back room and sound the siren doing a manual method,” Thompson said.
Thompson is also working with Boone County to roll out a reverse 911 program called Code Red.
“If there's a tornado warning, storm, hazmat issue, shelter-in-place, that Code Red will have the ability to notify citizens within that area that there is a problem,” Thompson said.
The bottom line is, dispatchers and residents need to be prepared, he said.
”Watch local news, have your weather radio as well as your cell phone and we'll provide notification,” Thompson said.
The sirens are normally tested on the first Wednesday of every month.