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County works with communities to install warning sirens

Posted on 05/22/2018
County works with communities to install warning sirensStory by Baker Geist, Weld County Communications Specialist

In the aftermath of the 2008 Weld County tornado, there were many questions. One that stuck out to Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer: why was there a lack of warning to any of the communities that a tornado was about to barreled through?

“What was surprising was that we didn’t have tornado sirens or any kind of early warning system around so many elementary schools,” she said. “They just weren’t there.”

Don Sandoval, Regional Director for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA), said discussions had taken place about the best way to warn communities of weather emergencies prior to the tornado, but the impact of the storm set things into motion.

“There were discussions that occurred in the previous year about what the best approach would be to warn people of tornadoes,” Sandoval said. “Prior to the Weld County tornado, many communities in the county didn’t have any type of warning system in place. So, after the storm, we worked on coming up with a way to help those communities establish emergency warning systems.”

As the Town Manager for Gilcrest at the time, Kirkmeyer quickly worked with Sandoval and applied for a Colorado Mineral Impact Grant, which aided Gilcrest in tornado recovery. According to Sandoval, the grant awarded the town $745,140, which provided money for cleanup, tornado sirens, repairs to damaged infrastructure and a backup generator for Gilcrest Elementary School. There was also a separate grant which helped replace a damaged police car.

The grant for Gilcrest was only the beginning, though, as shortly after she became commissioner in 2009, Kirkmeyer met with Sandoval and Weld County Office of Emergency Management Director Roy Rudisill to discuss ways to develop an alert system that could help more municipalities throughout Weld County.

The plan was to find a grant to help the towns of Ault, Eaton, Grover, Kersey, New Raymer, Nunn, Pierce and Severance install tornado sirens as well as purchase emergency equipment like backup generators.

The Weld County Emergency Warning System was established in mid-2009 after the county received a DOLA grant for $486,300. However, part of the county’s goal in applying for the grant was to get the individual communities involved in preparedness. To aid in that effort, a stipulation was put into place requiring each town to develop a sheltering plan so that everyone would know where to go when affected by severe weather. The requirement allowed everyone to take part in emergency preparedness.

“Each community that got a siren had to set up a system with the county for a sheltering process,” Sandoval said. “That’s how they were able to get these sirens. It was a multi-level approach to safety.”

Sirens were just one thing the money was spent on. Part of the grant money awarded was also used to install generators.

According to Sandoval, generators were installed in Grover, Kersey, Nunn, Pierce and Severance. Additionally, generators were installed at Eaton High School and Highland High School as well as in the New Raymer Community Building and the Community Recreation Center in Windsor. In total, eight sirens and nine generators were installed.

Separately the town of Windsor, where the tornado caused more than $100 million in damages, was allotted $859,402 from a DOLA grant to help repair its town hall.

Former Weld County Commissioner Dave Long also worked with Sandoval and Kirkmeyer on the grant for the Weld County Emergency Warning System. A commissioner from 2001 through 2012, Long is proud that they were able to deliver something residents wanted, that made them feel more prepared in an emergency.

“Small communities in my district, district one, wanted tornado sirens,” Long said. “With the help of Don Sandoval, Commissioner Kirkmeyer and myself, we were able to get money for tornado sirens and backup generators. It was a neat effort.”

Today, 17 municipalities in Weld County have tornado sirens ready to alert citizens in a weather emergency. Accompanying the sirens is Code Red, a free service allowing Weld County residents to receive emergency alerts including severe weather alerts, through email, text or phone call.

While it’s important to remember the Weld County tornado for its significant impact on many in Weld County, the work of Kirkmeyer, Long, Rudisill and Sandoval speaks to the desire of Weld County government to not only be reactive but also proactive, to ensure citizens have useful tools to be prepared for the next emergency.

To sign up for Code Red, visit