MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A weather radio is one great way to be aware of severe weather, but it’s a good idea to have multiple sources for warning information.

When you’re outside, a storm siren might provide your only alert to take cover.

“Sirens came about during the Cold War. They were really meant for enemy attack,” Hennepin County Emergency Management director Eric Waage said. “It was used for the first time for tornadoes in 1965, when we had the Twin Cities outbreak. Very successful.”

Born in the duck-and-cover era, sirens have endured into the internet era thanks to people like Waage. As the emergency manager for Hennepin County it’s his job to plan for natural disasters.

“Sirens are purchased, and sited, and installed and maintained by the cities, and the county is the one that coordinates their sounding,” Waage said.

As Hennepin County’s population has expanded — nearly doubling since 1950 — the number of sirens has increased. To fill gaps in coverage, some communities like Minnetrista have gotten creative.

“If you’re a developer and you have a certain number of homes that you’re putting up, you also provide a siren as part of that development,” Waage said.

Hennepin County Sheriff’s Emergency Communications Center is one of three locations where the 300-odd sirens in the county can be controlled. During severe weather, the National Weather Service designates areas that need to be warned.

The sirens also go off the first Wednesday of each month, as part of a drill, every month at 1 p.m., in both Minnesota and Wisconsin. WCCO’s director of meteorology was on hand when a supervisor at the dispatch center ran the test for this month.

“The siren doesn’t tell you what the emergency is, but it tells you that there is an emergency and that you need to get inside and get information; it’s just two steps,” Waage said.

Weather radios will alarm every Wednesday around 1 p.m. However, if severe weather is threatening, the test will be postponed.

Mike Augustyniak

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