Some Branson residents were never warned of tornado

One siren didn't work, plus alert system wasn't on

BRANSON, Mo. (CNN Modified) - A warning service that likely cost millions of dollars failed to activate when tornadoes hit Branson last week.

Now, city officials say they know why: It was never turned on.

Ralph Phillips has lived peacefully in Lakewood Estates since 2001. When the storm hit in the early-morning hours of Feb. 29, it wasn't the sirens that woke him.

"Well, of course I was asleep," Phillips said. "And i heard the winds blowing first."

Many of Phillips' neighbors say they didn't hear sirens at all.

"The key thing about the storm sirens is they have been strategically placed in our community for outdoor attractions," Branson fire chief Ted Martin said.

"If you are sitting in your living room, if you are asleep in bed, it's very possible you may not hear that siren," City Administrator Dean Kruithof said, "even if it is relatively close to you."

People in Lakewood Estates say even if you were outside, you still wouldn't have heard it sound.

The city of Branson has 23 tornado sirens. But one didn't work before the storm. Another one was damaged after the storm.

But that wasn't the only thing that didn't warn residents.

"Code Red did not activate at all in our community," Martin said.

The system sends targeted messages to cell phones and land lines in times of severe weather. When the EF2 tornado hit, nothing was sent.

The chief says the Code Red problem wasn't the city's fault.

"We understand from Code Red that it was on their side," Martin said. "It was not from the National Weather Service, it was not through the city of Branson."

Martin says the company simply didn't turn the system on.

"Unfortunately it didn't happen this time when we really needed it," Martin said.

"That is a service that we had provided and we did buy and we want to make sure why we understand why that did not take place," Kruithof said.

Now, city leaders say the problem is fixed, and if a severe event were to happen tonight, people would get the message.

"They verbally have told us that they have identified the problem and it's been resolved," Martin said, "and they are really for lack of a better term, really sickened that this has happened."

Fire officials are confident this was an isolated event, as the service worked last year to warn of flooding.

No deaths have been reported in the area, but the city of Branson suffered significant damage to its popular entertainment district.