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Howard County tests new flash flood warning system for Ellicott City

Audible tones and messages signal flood alert
Posted: 5:38 PM, May 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-16 09:29:39-04
Ellicott City alert system.jpg

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. — Two deadly floods within a two-year period, have Howard County officials taking several steps to prevent another tragedy in Ellicott City.

One plan includes tearing down four buildings to help control flooding, another one features a flood warning system for Main Street.

The piercing sound of an alarm is meant to grab your attention. There’s no cause for alarm currently though; it’s just a test meant to save lives if needed in the future.

The high-pitched bell tones resonated throughout Ellicott City Wednesday morning

Owen Wanshop said "it’s pretty loud."

Howard County’s Office of Emergency Management tested out the new flood warning system for Ellicott City. The safety drill caught the ear of Wanshop, a sixth-grader and self-proclaimed siren enthusiast.

“I was into weather a lot, and I started watching some videos, and heard the sirens in the background and started doing some research,” Wanshop said.

Howard County Office of Emergency Management acting director Mike Hinson said, "these are just test tones. We’re just testing different things right now just to see how they sound, but there is going to be one tone, that is the emergency tone."

Howard County Public Works crews spent much of their morning putting up warning signs along Main Street, advising people to seek higher ground in the event the alarms sound off on a flash flood.

“Say like you don't have your phone and you're outside, they can rely on the sirens,” Wanshop said.

“It's a very dynamic event, so people just need to survey their surroundings, make the best choices possible, and of course the signs they provide more guidance specifically on things people should and should not do,” Hinson said.

Throughout the morning, passersby could hear a message blasting from the speakers such as, "this is a test of the Ellicott City alert system."

While it's just a test to help safety officials prepare for the next emergency, the system is ready to go.

“This is live. It is hooked into the National Weather Service. So, if they send out a flash flood warning, these will activate. We also have the ability to activate them manually, and we're working on having as many redundant systems in place,” Hinson said.