If you rely on Muskogee’s tornado siren system to tell you when to take cover in bad weather, you’re courting disaster, Muskogee’s emergency management director says.

“You need a weather radio and to watch TV and listen to the radio,” said the director, Jimmy Moore. “Storm sirens are made for people who are outdoors. They’re an outdoor warning device.”

Muskogee spent nearly $160,000 last year to fine-tune six of its 19 storm sirens. Every siren now has a battery backup, Moore said, enabling them to sound even if power is knocked out.

But there are other things that could keep people who are indoors from hearing the sirens screeching, Moore said.

Those include watching TV or listening to the radio. High winds also could dampen the sounds.

“The winds can potentially blow the sound away from you,” Moore said. “It’s not enough to just wait for a siren to go off, not if you want to be safe.”

To aid in that endeavor, Moore has 12 volunteers who watch for storms.

They include Roger Atchley, who has been chasing storms for Moore for 10 years.

“We check different radars 24/7, 365,” Atchley said. “But when the weather gets cool and warm at the same time, we know upper-level disturbance is coming, so we stay on the lookout for our city.”

The volunteers train online with the Federal Emergency Management Agency every month and take part in a training seminar each year at the Muskogee Civic Center.

This time of year is of particular interest to Atchley. As the weather heats up, so does storm season.

“Our usual bad time for weather is April to August,” he said. “But the weather’s been so different lately, there’s no telling. We had tornadoes in Oklahoma last winter.”

For residents who want to take an extra step toward safety, The SoonerSafe — Safe Room Rebate Program is available. It pays 75 percent of the cost of building a storm shelter, up to $2,000. Five hundred people are randomly selected from thousands of free entries each year. The program is funded through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

“We advise people to apply now, because we’ve already selected the names for 2013,” Keli Cain, the public information officer for the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, said. “So if someone would like to be considered for 2014, now is the time to apply.”

Reach Dylan Goforth at (918) 684-2903 or dgoforth@muskogeephoenix.com.

What to do

To apply for a SoonerSafe rebate for 2014, go online to www.soonersafe.ok.gov.

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