A weather radio’s high-pitched “wheedle, wheedle, wheedle,” alerting your household to danger in the middle of the night or day, is not a pleasant sound.
But it can be a life-saving one. So, can the free emergency-alert system at Middle Tennessee State University.
Rutherford County has already faced two tornado warnings in 2013, and January is barely over. We are approaching the most high-risk months of the year — March, April and May — for Tennessee tornadoes, although they can and do pop up throughout the year.
MTSU installed its first tornado siren in 1999 and now has five sirens across the 500-plus-acre campus, as well as a sixth at the Tennessee Miller Coliseum and Horse Science Center seven miles away on West Thompson Lane.
The university adopted the Rave Mobile Alert Safety system in September 2007 to more quickly notify students, faculty and staff members about campus security breaches, fires or weather-related class cancellations. Tornado warnings were included in that alert list too.
Barely 18 months later, MTSU used a Rave Alert for the deadly April 2009 outbreak of twisters across the South, including the fearsome Good Friday Tornado that tore across Rutherford County and killed two.
Students huddled in basement hallways, bathrooms and back stairwells alongside secretaries and professors for what seemed like hours as warnings pealed across campus that day.
No one on campus was hurt, and no damage was reported. Off-campus students reported receiving the Rave Alert text messages and took cover where they were, which may have saved their lives.
As more tornadoes cropped up each year and people huddled in hallways for dangers that turned out to be miles away from campus, MTSU officials decided to fine-tune the alerts to activate only when the university is in the direct path of danger.
In October 2011, MTSU began using customized hazardous-weather monitoring from AccuWeather.
It allows the university to issue campus-specific tornado alerts instead of rushing to safe places for a potential tornado that is heading away from MTSU in another part of Rutherford County.
MTSU Office of Public Safety dispatchers who activate tornado alerts must have some of the fastest fingers in the state. MTSU’s warnings have come across sooner than TV broadcasts and within seconds of — and sometimes before — the weather radios sound with a National Weather Service warning for Rutherford County.
The Rave Alert text, voice and e-mail alerts are activated simultaneously with university tornado sirens, which are tested every month to ensure proper operation.
These safety alerts go out to everyone at MTSU, regardless of whether classes are in session, because the campus is never completely empty.
Rave Alerts woke users from their afternoon naps on Jan. 13, before spring 2013 classes began, and their pre-dawn sleep on Jan. 30 in plenty of time to get to safe places on and off campus.
MTSU is a city within a city, and it takes protecting its occupants very seriously. Weather and other safety alerts are part of that around-the-clock protection.