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Tornadoes Highlight Indiana’s Lack Of Siren Recommendations

Tornado sirens are used differently throughout Indiana's counties

Photo: Bill Shaw WTIU

Tornado sirens are used differently throughout Indiana's counties

Torando sirens went off throughout the state Sunday as 26 tornadoes formed in multiple counties.

But counties turn on their sirens for different events. Some communities sound their alarms if there’s a major fire. Others activate them only if a tornado is on the ground and others don’t even have sirens.

Residents can often hear sirens inside their houses, but that’s not exactly their role.

Department of Homeland Security Spokesmen John Erickson says sirens are meant to alert you to go inside and get more information from more direct methods of communications like smart phones, weather radios and the TV to get more information.

“Sirens are part of a system. They certainly help with initial warning if you are outside.  I know that we’ve had discussions on many levels and in many venues about the effectiveness of outdoor sirens,” he says.

Each community is responsible for their own sirens and controls how many they have, where they’re placed, what type of alarm they use, and when the  alarm is sounded.

State Senator Brent Waltz, R-Greenwood, says that can lead to confusion about what they mean.

“If you’re in Lafayette Indiana and you hear a weather siren go off it might have an entirely different meaning than in Greenwood where I live or downtown Indianapolis or Evansville,” he says.

Waltz says he was surprised by the lack of clarity surrounding sirens so a couple years ago he proposed legislation that would create a uniform system.  He’s worried if people don’t know what the sirens mean they won’t take them seriously when they’re going off.

“I don’t care what the system is as long as citizens know what a severe weather siren means when it goes off,” he says.

But Waltz’s legislation didn’t go anywhere.

The Department of Homeland Security advises communities if they have questions about their sirens, but it stops short of making formal recommendations.

“What we recommend for that is get educated about what your local siren means and have more than one way to get notification,” he says.

A law passed in 2008 required the Department of Homeland security to specify under what conditions a community may activate its sirens.

Here’s what the law states:

Before January 1, 2010, the department shall adopt rules to provide for the following:

(1) Minimum technical standards, including a minimum range, for any siren that is to be acquired and installed in a county under a county’s siren coverage plan.

(2) A specification of any permissible storm, weather condition, or emergency, other than a tornado, for which a severe weather warning siren may be activated.

But the Department of Homeland Security hasn’t made any headway on it.

Erickson says that is because Indiana is a Home Rule state and the counties have to ask for their help before they can provide it.

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