Outdoor Warning Sirens

Keeping You Safe: Outdoor Warning Sirens 

The City of Urbandale is served by a system of outdoor warning sirens to provide warnings to residents when the National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning that is predicated to impact Urbandale, Clive or West Des Moines.

During emergencies residents will hear a 3 to 5 minute signal from the sirens. When you hear the sirens and are unsure what they are sounding for, seek shelter immediately, go indoors and tune your radio or TV to one of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) Stations, and listen for essential emergency information.  DO NOT call 911, the fire or police departments to ask why the sirens are sounding. During the emergency, they are busy getting equipment and staffing to the emergency scene.

Frequent Questions:

One frequent question we receive is “Why can’t I hear the sirens inside my home?” Remember, outdoor warning sirens are just that, an out-door warning system. The sirens are NOT meant to be heard inside a home or business but to alert you if you are outdoors that you should go indoors and tune your radio or television station to the local Emergency Alert System (EAS) Station. As homes continue to become more energy efficient and sound proofing has enhanced, outdoor warning sirens that once could be heard decades ago inside of a home can no longer be heard. That’s why other means of warning are in place. It is imperative that you have a weather alert radio to alert you of a tornado when you are inside.

When are the outdoor warning sirens activated?         

1) Tornado Warning

a. Issued by the National Weather Service

b. Tornado or funnel cloud reported by a trained spotter (law enforcement, fire department official, emergency management agency)

2) Severe Thunderstorms

a. Issued by the National Weather Service

b. Winds 70 mph or greater forecast or occurring Warnings are officially issued by the National Weather Service (Johnston, Iowa) and are received at all three Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP)/911 Communication Centers in Polk County. The official warning is received via the Metropolitan Incident Command Radio Network (MICRN) and the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems (NLTS).

Another question we often hear is “I can hear other sirens going off, why were the sirens in Urbandale not sounded when a tornado warning was issued for Polk or Dallas County?” Our sirens are controlled by WestCom, the joint Dispatch Center for Clive, Urbandale and West Des Moines. Other sirens in the county are controlled by a County Dispatch Center or by the City of Des Moines. They may choose to sound their sirens when a threat is not indicated for Urbandale. We sound the sirens only when there is a threat to Urbandale, Clive or West Des Moines. When the National Weather Service issues a warning, it is on a county basis - not an individual city basis. When a warning is issued for the county, the weather service is usually able to pinpoint the area of warning and predict the areas which will be affected by the storm.  If the cause for a warning is a tornado that is affecting the northern part of the county and is predicted to travel away from Urbandale, the sirens would not be sounded in Urbandale. If sirens are sounding in another community and not in Urbandale, we have not been forecasted to be affected. If sirens are sounded in other communities, residents should keep a close eye on the weather and monitor TV or radio to keep aware of threatening weather in the area.

Our intent is to minimize the number of times our sirens are sounded to only when there is threat specific to Urbandale. We want our citizens and guest to know that when they hear a siren in our community, the treat is very real. This is a strategy that is supported by the Polk County Emergency Management Agency and is an acceptable strategy nation-wide. If a citizen hears a siren every time there is a storm warning, even when it is not affecting that particular community, they may become complacent and might not respond when there is an actual threat.

In Urbandale, THERE IS NO ALL CLEAR SOUNDED BY THE OUTDOOR WARNING SIRENS. The “all clear” will be made over the local radio stations and cable TV. That’s why it’s important to monitor your local radio station during times of emergency for further information. Too much confusion trying to differentiate between the signals can result from issuing an "All Clear". No activation of sirens occur for weather watches or "All Clear".

Siren Testing

Sirens are tested on the first Saturday of each month at noon. Any time severe weather threatens on a test day, the outdoor sirens will not be tested to avoid confusion. Periodically it may be necessary to test sirens on days and times other than the first Saturday. When that occurs, we will contact local media to alert them that the sounding of the siren is only a test. Testing will not be done on days of threatening weather.

If you have any questions about storm sirens or would like to know the closest siren to your home or workplace, please feel free to contact Fire Chief Jerry Holt by email at Jholt@urbandale.org or by phone at 278-3970.