Gatlinburg tests new warning system

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) - The city of Gatlinburg on Wednesday tested its siren system that's been the focus of much discussion in the 13 months since the deadly wildfires.

The city ran into difficulties the night of the fires, trying to get the word out to evacuate. The city activated sirens that were designed to warn flood-prone areas about rising waters, but those sirens were destroyed in the fire. In replacing them, the city also anted to expand and upgrade its warning capabilities.

The new warning system includes 14 siren towers. Ten of them send out a loud voice message and alarm while the others send out a rotating siren when there is a life threatening situation. City leaders say it is all in an effort to get people's attention while also adding another line of communication in case of an emergency.

People paid attention when the alarms went off across the city of Gatlinburg Wednesday afternoon. A loud tone was followed by a voice message.

"What our goal is to try and reach most people as possible," said Joe Ayers, director of the Sevier County EMA.

Ayers said this updated system provides an immediate alert to the public in a life threatening situation. Before the sirens go off there's also the iPAWS system that sends a message directly to your phone if you're in the Gatlinburg area, similar to an Amber Alert. 

"The way we have grown over the years and recent wildfire, we felt like this was a very important step to take," said Marci Claude, spokesperson for the city of Gatlinburg.

Since we've had this event, it had taken everyone back and made us pause and go, 'How are we going to communicate better in the event of an emergency?" she said.

County leaders are also encouraging more people to sign up for the Code Red system that will send a text, phone call and even an email. So far, only 6,500 phone numbers are in the system.

"That will be a way for us to disseminate many different notifications throughout the community depending on the event," said Ayers. 

One big change to this system is it allows the county EMA the ability to send the message locally. 

As for who decides when an alert is sent or when to sound the alarms, the city says whoever the incident commander is for the specific area in which the emergency is happening is the one who makes the call. 

Check the City of Gatlinburg website to sign up for the alertsYou can also click here to sign up for the alerts.

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