Jul 10, 2014 6:13 PM by Kelsey Kennedy

When Manitou sirens go off, is it too late?

The Manitou Springs flood sirens were tested on Monday, but the very next day, when the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning, the sirens were not sounded. As News 5 found out, that is by design.

The sirens will not sound every time a flash flood warning is put into effect. Police Chief and Incident Commander Joe Ribeiro, who decides when to sound the alarm, says he will only sound it in what he calls run for your life situations.

"For us to launch the sirens, its a decision of the incident commander, based on credible information that flash flooding is occuring. Or our observations closer to where manitou is that flash flooding is very likely to occur."

To be clear, the incident commander is the chief himself, who has decided that flash flood warnings are not reason enough to alert the public.

The National Weather Service in Pueblo issues flash flood warnings. Warning Coordination Meteorologist, Tom Magnuson, says they should be taken seriously.

"Its for real," he says. "It means that lives and property are in danger."

The National Weather Service is constantly monitoring potential storms with special consideration given to the Waldo Canyon burn scar. They'll only issue a flash flood warning when they expect six inches of water or more in a usually dry area. That translates into one to two inches of rain per hour over the burn scar. Predicting the storm as accurately as possible, to give people time to react.

"We had to get that warning out to give people lead time," says Senior Meteorologist Steven Hodanish. "We can't wait until the flooding occurs to give the warning. You need some lead time."

But Ribeiro says he wont use flash flood warnings as the lone decision. He likened it to crying wolf.

"It is important to what we're trying to help our citizens understand," he says. "That when the sirens go off, that is a life threatening situation. That's your warning to run to higher ground as quickly as possible."

Keep in mind, the city itself evacuates the government building for flash flood warning. When they evacuate, should they be sounding sirens for others as well?

People on Canon Avenue are split on the issue.

"I kept thinking I'd hear the sirens," says property owner Bruce Mcalexander. "I thought maybe they didn't work again, but I had heard them a couple days before. They need to be consistent because if Highway 24 is closed, that's right above us so we need to know."

Others say they just keep an eye out, and can tell when it's getting bad enough to take action.

"What happens is it starts coming really fast, and if it gets up to the curb you know," says Susan Thomas. "If it keeps raining, it's time to get up the hill."

Some don't want to hear the sirens every time there's a flash flood warning. So far this season, five flash flood warnings have gone out. The only time they the sirens were to be sounded, they didn't work. That issue has since been resolved.

"Can you imagine if we've had several sirens already, and nothing happened in a sense?" asks resident Firuz Labib. "So I'm depending of the judgment of the police."

Others would rather hear the siren every time a flash flood warning is issued.

"If we end up not getting a flood, good," says McAlexander. "If we do, then we're all safer. That's how I feel about it."

Ribeiro says he uses cameras and spotters in the canyons to observe conditions. His message is- don't wait for the sirens. The sirens mean get out now.

Council members News 5 spoke to are all on the same page, and are comfortable with the emergency plan. Ribeiro recommends every family and business have its own evacuation plan and practice it.



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