So where were you at about 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, when the skies darkened and the sirens went off?

So where were you at about 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, when the skies darkened and the sirens went off?

How did you get the word that a line of storms with funnel clouds and at least a handful of small tornadoes was rolling through the area?

What did you do?

These are the questions that cause emergency managers and other officials to fret. Consider their dilemmas: They have criteria for posting watches and warnings, just as there are criteria for when sirens are sounded. That doesn’t mean everyone will get the word or heed it.

Besides, everyone remembers the storm that fizzles out and likes to complain that television forecasters overdo it, but what is the alternative? If the best information at hand says things look dicey, that information has to go out quickly and with a sense of urgency.

More importantly, forecasters usually get the big stuff substantially right. We had at least a day’s clear warning ahead of the February blizzard here. When Tuscaloosa and other parts of the South were devastated by tornadoes a few weeks ago, a high-profile alert had been issued hours in advance. On Monday, we knew Tuesday looked bad for Oklahoma, and by Tuesday we knew Wednesday looked iffy here.

The key is individual responsibility. It’s a matter of staying plugged in and knowing to keep the radio on when there’s a severe weather watch. It’s a matter of being aware of how you choose to get your information. The best first line of defense is a NOAA weather radio that can be programmed to come on when there’s a warning for your area, though radio and TV get the word out quickly during bad weather, too. (Sirens, strictly speaking, are meant to warn people outdoors – really a backup to the backup of your main means of warning.)

Warnings are of little good if residents lack a plan – a cleared space in the basement to wait it out, if nothing else. Our schools do a good job on this. They have plans, and they have drills. On Wednesday, we heard, students at various schools sat out the middle part of the day in hallways for upwards of an hour or even more. Some may grumble, but the system worked and kids were safe until the danger passed.

Still, government officials who deal with emergency warnings worry that even if every alert is right on the mark, some will become desensitized and others just tune them out altogether. The Tuscaloosa area had basically a one-hour warning, and yet video of the storm hitting shows people driving down the highway in the midst of chaos. On the other hand, this area had good heads up on the February blizzard and pretty much got everything buttoned down.

The technology to track and forecast weather has vastly improved over the years. There is, however, no technological fix for complacency.