The tornadoes that raked through the Plains and southern states have been devastating - and deadly.

A lot of lives were lost the past week, and it could have been worse.

Two factors likely saved thousands of lives:

* The advances in predicting such deadly tornadoes and given people more time to react.

* Community warning systems, often simple sirens.

Just suppose a major tornado touched down locally. There have been pretty serious twisters in the past that have caused significant damages, such as in Walker Township and Berlinsville about 15 to 20 years ago.

If a menacing tornado slashed through the heart of a local community, could people be warned in time?

Years ago, there used to be Civil Defense drills in which local fire sirens were blown. A long, unbroken sound meant imminent danger.

Would most people today heed such a siren? Wouldn't they just think the siren was stuck?

There are some communities, although we're not sure if any are local, where fire sirens don't even exist.

If a tornado would occur during the middle of the night, would you be alerted through TV or radio? Or, would you not hear it and continue sleeping, even though the funnel might be headed in your direction?

Even where tornadoes are rarities, an alerting system should be in place.

What if a plant such as Ametek had a major catastorphe? Could local folks be informed in an abrupt manner?

What about if a railroad car spilled dangerous chemicals?

Wouldn't some sort of alerting siren, of which people become familiar, be a logical warning device?

It was probably a half century ago that the fire company sirens would have a long, continuous wail during the old-fashioned air raid drills. Back then, people knew such a sound meant there was a problem and they should either take immediate shelter or check for firther instructions.

Maybe it's time such this old-fashioned alerting system be revived and a few drills be conducted. You never know when they could save lives. Just ask anyone who's endured the furious storms the past few days.

By RON GOWER

rgower@tnonline.com