Nantucket Police Chief Explains Lack of Sirens During Tornado Warning

Nantucket Police Chief William Pittman

NANTUCKET – The Nantucket Select Board recently heard an update from Police Chief William Pittman on when and how the island community’s emergency sirens are activated, given that they were not utilized during recent tornado warnings.

Pittman said that the answer comes down to the National Weather Service (NWS) and upgrades to forecasting tech that are faster than ever.

“As part of that upgrade, they now can get almost three-dimensional image of clouds and storm systems on their radars. They’re able to identify rotation in the clouds that are strongly associated with tornadic activity. In this particular case, that’s what they observed,” said Pittman.

“In this case, the rotation in the clouds was kind of a new phenomena for us and our policy hasn’t quite gotten up to speed with that. We’re really struggling with how to do that because this type of forecast is going to be very quick. Which is what happened that night… by the time we got notified by the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, it was literally being cancelled.”

The system is supposed to be activated when Emergency Managers, such as Pittman, are notified of an imminent life threatening situation for the town, sending out a 30 second siren blast that can be repeated depending on the circumstance. 

These situations can include severe weather, tornadoes, tsunami, or other life-threatening events.

If a tornado is spotted on the ground or a water spout is approaching, then the National Weather Service’s notifications to the town and the siren system function as expected.

However, with new radar systems dramatically increasing the speed at which the NWS can discover and notify the region about some weather events, Pittman said the town’s existing policies may need an update.

“We’re looking at our policy as to whether or not that is even something we can transition to the use of the sirens with, that third condition, or whether expanding the number of people with the ability to order the sirens to be sounded would accomplish what we need to have happen.”

Currently, only Pittman and Lieutenant Brendan Coakley are authorized to sound the sirens. The draft policy plan would expand that authority to the Fire Chief, Deputy Fire Chief, and Deputy Police Chief, as well as police sergeants and fire captains if a tornado is observed.  

About Grady Culhane

Grady Culhane is a Cape Cod native currently living in Eastham. He studied media communications at Cape Cod Community College and joined the News Center in 2019.
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