WALTON HILLS, Ohio–Shannon Cartier was dispatching for Walton Hills police and fire late Friday when she says the department started getting calls about tornado sirens going off.
“We just got a call from a resident on Sagamore Road saying that they heard the sirens going off. And also, one of our auxiliary officers happened to be at T.G. Young Park and he had heard it when he came back into the station to dispatch and reported they were going off,” said Walton Hills Police Chief Stan Jaworski.
The two Walton Hills sirens were not the only ones sounding. Another one, 6 miles away in Garfield Heights, was also sounding at the same time.
Dispatchers at Garfield Heights police told Fox 8 News they could not have activated their siren, which would have had to been turned on by dispatchers in Walton Hills.
“Garfield had called about 20 minutes prior to say that their dispatchers were going into work for their shift their siren was going off. Which was the reasonable thing to do is to call us first and see if we set off the sirens and I’m like, I didn’t touch anything,” Cartier said.
She immediately sent a code red message to all Walton Hills residents who signed up for the alerts, instructing them to disregard the sirens, “They were not set up by us.”
Cartier showed FOX 8 the panel that is used to turn the sirens on, explaining that it is virtually impossible to do it accidentally.
An upper panel in their dispatch center has an array of buttons for sirens in eight different communities and individual buttons for each of the sirens. Once a button on the upper panel is pushed, a different button on a lower panel starts flashing. That button has to be pressed next in order to activate the sirens.
“In order to set off just Walton Hills and or Garfield, you would have to hit the correct siren that you wanted to set off. Garfield has three sirens. Walton Hills also has three. So you would hat to pick the right siren push that button and then hit page send,” Cartier said.
Cartier said it is also unlikely someone could have hacked into the system to activate the three sirens because each of the sirens has its own individual code and to turn those three sirens on the hacker would need to know those codes, which Walton Hills Police Chief said even he does not have.
“It would be almost impossible. We do not know the codes for the different sirens. Each siren has a different code number so we did speak to Northcoast Radio and he told us it could have been a fluke, you know. They are looking into it,” Jaworski said.
Cuyahoga County Emergency Management officials are also apparently looking into the incident trying to figure out what happened.
Authorities said most people get severe weather alerts or tornado warnings on their smart phones before the tornado sirens are activated.
The sirens themselves are only meant to be heard by people who are outdoors, so on the chilly Friday night most people were indoors and may not have even heard the sirens. But why they went off and who did it is still a concern.
“This is very frustrating because everybody is saying we didn’t do anything ,you know. We have called Northcoast Radio, which maintains our tornado sirens, they don’t have a clue who is. They have no idea who set these off so we are kind of stumped,” Cartier said.