WINSTON-SALEM -- In the wake of Saturday's devastating tornadoes in North Carolina, some people may have wondered why the Triad has no tornado sirens.
Sirens can be found in many communities in the tornado-prone Midwest, but officials here said sirens were not the best way to alert people in the Piedmont of a twister's approach.
Officials silenced the approximately two dozen tornado sirens scattered around Winston-Salem and Forsyth County in 1989.
"These actually were installed originally with the thought being they were going to be used for air raid sirens,” said Melton Sadler, emergency management director. “World War II came and passed and, of course, the Cold War came and passed and they were still around and they were used primarily for natural weather events afterward."
But they became increasingly expensive to maintain and there were other issues.
"Those that were activated by telephone were not much of a problem, but those that were activated by radio we'd get false starts from time to time," Sadler said.
And then came improvements in technology.
"As that emergency alert system developed and matured it was pretty obvious that this was the way to go," said Sadler.
Sadler's counterpart in Guilford County said he was not aware of his county ever using sirens, which would not be a good option now.
"A couple of key factors,” said Alan Perdue, emergency services director. “One is the topography and geography that we have across Guilford County."
He said they limit the distance a siren's wail could travel. And people in newer structures might not hear it.
"Homes are a lot tighter,” Perdue said. “You have a lot of noise going on with TV and other activity."
And then there was the cost of sirens.
"One siren can cost upwards of about $50,000," said Perdue.
Sadler and Perdue said there was a smaller and more effective investment every person should make in their safety.
"We do strongly recommend that you have a NOAA tone alert weather radio both in your home and in your place of business," said Sadler.
With some costing as little as $20, he said a weather radio could prove to be the best investment a person could ever make.
Radio Shack is among local retailers who sell NOAA weather radios. An employee at the Radio Shack at Friendly Center in Greensboro said more than half of the store's customers over the weekend purchased or inquired about the radios.
The store quickly sold out of its stock and ordered more to meet the increased demand.