the Little Rock Police Department’s Communications Division will make changes to its emergency weather-management operations after officials confirmed that tornado sirens in west Little Rock sounded 15 minutes late on Saturday morning as a tornado made its way through the eastern part of Pulaski County.
Residents reported that tornado sirens went off several minutes after the National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area. The tornado was one of three that touched down within the state on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
A “perfect storm” of events inside the dispatch center led to the delay of the sirens, according to Capt. Ty Tyrrell, commander of the Police Department’s Communications Division.
“A series of human errors led to this,” he said. “We were extremely busy at the time, and it took us much longer than it should. This wasn’t a hardware issue.”
Tyrrell said the dispatch center receives a phone message from the National Weather Service when a tornado warning is issued, but high winds set off a series of 911 and alarm calls Saturday that flooded the center’s telephone lines.
“The phone will play the message over the speaker without needing to be answered,” Tyrrell said. “The fire ground dispatcher heard the message but was talking to the Fire Department at the time and couldn’t hear the full call. She would call the National Weather Service back [later] to get the notification, and at the same time we started to get some calls from police about a tornado touching down in west Little Rock.”
Tyrrell said officers heard on local television that there was a report of a possible tornado in the area, which led to confusion within the dispatch center.
“During this moment they thought someone had contacted the supervisor who turns on the alarm system, but nobody did, and that caused another delay,” Tyrrell said. “We are also not fully staffed on Saturdays, and that added another issue to the process.”
Tyrrell said the incident was unacceptable, and he apologized to residents.
“It took far too long, and it was my fault,” he said. “We didn’t have a good plan in place, and that falls on me.”
Tyrrell said he couldn’t recall the last time the sirens were delayed as long as they were Saturday.
“It was clearly a failure on our part, and we are looking hard at streamlining the steps,” said Tyrrell, who has been commander of the division for eight months. “The process had too many failure points, plus potential for confusion.”
Tyrrell said the siren system’s activation procedure will be revamped. He said people will be retrained on the notification system and that the number of steps it takes to turn on the sirens will be reduced.
“We are going to get more than one supervisor authorized on how to turn on the sirens,” Tyrrell said. “Because what if the supervisor was in the bathroom when the notification came in? The system was flawed. We need to have multiple people in the room who can activate it.”
The dispatch center also will have clear illustrations that show how to turn on the warning system, he said.
After 15-minute tornado siren delay due to ‘human errors’, Little Rock dispatch center to change emergency weather procedure
“You would think you would just need to click one button, but you have to click a series of buttons in particular order to get the system activated,” Tyrrell said. “We are going to make sure people know how to activate it and, if not, include a number where they can call someone who can help.”
Tyrrell said changes will go into effect today.
“I clearly understand the citizens of Little Rock deserve better, and they will get that from me,” Tyrrell said.
Officials in Sherwood said they set off the city’s tornado sirens Saturday as a precaution. The city was never under a tornado warning, according to Capt. Kel Nicholson.
“We were watching the radar and weather, and it seemed like it might get a piece of northwest Sherwood,” Nicholson said. “It was all on the side of safety.”
A tornado touched down in far eastern Pulaski County, where it destroyed at least one mobile home and injured two people before moving into Lonoke County, said Heather Cross, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in North Little Rock. Two other tornadoes were caught on video and later confirmed by the weather service. Both were south of Lonoke County and near Prairie County, Cross said.
All three were EF1 tornadoes, with winds reaching up to 110 mph.
Forecasters anticipate more rain across Arkansas this week, with up to 2 inches possible through Thursday.
Much of the state faces a marginal risk of severe weather Wednesday, Cross said. The southern and eastern portions are under the greatest threat, with the primary risk being damaging winds. Isolated tornadoes can’t be ruled out, according to meteorologists.
Heavy rain and localized flash flooding are possible, especially to the south and east, the weather service said.