KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- An early warning system that should have alerted Branson residents of a tornado bearing down on them last week wasn’t activated because much of the city’s data had been removed from the system in January, city officials and the company that operates CodeRed agreed.
There’s no such consensus, however, on whose fault it was that hundreds of telephones in the country music mecca didn’t receive a recorded alert that a tornado about to hit the community at 1:30 a.m. Feb. 29.
“We’re disappointed the service wasn’t available,” said Branson spokesman Garrett Anderson.
He said the contract for CodeRed—which sends alerts to landlines and cellphones signed up with the city for the service—was being negotiated in January when it expired as city officials were trying to get Taney County covered under the same deal.
Anderson said those talks ended with the county not being covered, and by the time the city voted to renew the contract, it had been expired for about three weeks.
“The entire time we assured them it wasn’t our intention to cancel the contract, we just wanted to modify details and include the county,” Anderson said. “We were very clear with them. We didn’t want to cancel.”
The EF2 tornado brought winds of up to 130 mph as the twister hopped along the city’s main strip, damaging about four dozen commercial structures, including six of the town’s 50 theaters and 22 of the 200 hotels and motels. About a dozen people were injured, but nobody was killed.
Anderson said CodeRed is one of a number of warning systems the city uses. The city has tornado sirens and those did go off that night.
“This is one system that gets the word out,” he said of CodeRed. “People shouldn’t rely on a single system. We recommend people get NOAA storm weather radios in their homes.”
David Digiacomo, president of Emergency Communications Network, which provides the CodeRed service, said the system is customized so that warnings can be sent to specific areas that are threatened, rather than widespread locations.
That customized data was removed for Branson once the contract expired, he said.
“When an account gets deactivated, the records get deactivated,” Digiacomo said. “When it’s reactivated, we have to go back in and pull every record, recode it and put it back into service. There’s a time lag before you can get any of the old records custom-coded and back into the database.”
He said it takes about 30 days to restore the data once a contract is reactivated, and noted Feb. 29 came during that transition period.
City records show Branson paid the company $9,261.75 on Jan. 27, and the check cleared about 10 days later. Regardless of how long it took for ECN to plug the local data back into its computers, Branson officials believe they paid for a service with that check, and it should have been operating when the tornado hit.
Anderson said 954 phones are signed up for the service, which is paid for by the city and is free to residents. He said the number does not represent total households, because more than one phone at an address can be signed up.
“Our assertion is we felt like the data should have been input faster than that,” Anderson said. “We renewed the system Jan. 27, which was 32 days before the storm, and by then the names should have been reloaded into the system.”