Tornado sirens in Clark County: Are they necessary, effective?

Wednesday’s 130 mph winds sparked renewed discussion about warning systems.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Hours after Wednesday’s EF-2 tornado that brought 130 mph winds to Clark County, discussions about the need for tornado sirens picked back up in social media and other forums.

Several local communities in Clark County have the sirens as a way to alert those who are outside to tornadoes headed their way, while other jurisdictions rely on different ways to alert residents, with officials there saying the sirens are not necessary to protect the community.

The tornado, which had a path width of 500 yards, traveled 21.3 miles across eastern Clark County into Madison County starting at 4:52 a.m., reaching maximum wind speeds of 130 mph before lifting at 5:15 a.m. in a field near London, according to the NWS.

Three people were reported to have minor injuries.

New Carlisle has had two sirens for many years, with new ones installed in 2005.

“There are some benefits to it, but there’s a common misconception as to what it’s used for ... it’s for people outside,” said Randy Bridge, city manager.

Bridge said New Carlisle leaders had a discussion a couple of years ago about getting a third one, but that would have been an additional cost of about $20,000 to $25,000.

EMA Director Michelle Clements-Pitstick said the warning systems — phone notifications, news app notifications, NOAA weather radios and tornado sirens — worked as designed. Everyone with whom the EMA spoke whose properties were damaged said they were alerted to the tornado in some way.

“The biggest message with the tornado sirens is just please remember that those are meant to be heard outdoors; they’re not meant to wake you up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night,” Clements-Pitstick said.

Bryan Heck, Springfield city manager, said the city has considered tornado sirens in the past, but decided against them, “finding consistently that they provide a false sense of security and are ineffective in the saving of lives ahead of severe weather.”

He said tornado sirens “are prone to malfunction; vulnerable to human error; difficult to hear inside a home; and require a good deal of maintenance.”

Heck added: “Phones and NOAA weather radios are far more effective tools in the event of severe weather.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Mad River Twp. has had four sirens for at least over 10 years now, but they are just if someone is “in the field,” said trustee Todd Pettit.

“For instance, (the ones at) Wright-Patterson Air Force Base are designed to wake you up; ours are just if you’re in the field ... kids playing in the yard and they hear it, they go in the house. A well insulated house may not hear it,” he said.

Pettit said the sirens “were not cheap” because they were a “pretty decent” initial investment of about $100,000 and are expensive to maintain as well for about $6,000 a year to pay for software, any updates and testing.

“About $6,000 a year is what it costs to operate and test them, provided nothing happens,” he said. “They do have a shelf life (also).”

The sirens are on currently on a radio signal, but Pettit said he’d like to upgrade to the cellular signal, which would cost about $30,000.

“If the radio has an issue such as battery or it shorts out, it fails to send a signal to one of our towers,” he said. “(If cellular), when NWS sends a warning it sends to a cellular signal versus radio to a computer signal.”

Moorefield Twp. has had six sirens across the township for about 10 years, trustee Jack McKee said. He said the sirens are placed to ensure as many as possible hear them when outside.

“A lot of people have the misunderstanding that when they give a warning to a county or a big area that they should go off; they do not go off through the National Weather Service unless you’re in the direct path of the tornadoes,” McKee said.

McKee urged township residents to sign up for the county’s Hyper Reach emergency notification system. Those alerts are received on phones in the case of a tornado. The Moorefield Twp. sirens, which are not designed to be heard indoors, are tested the first Monday of the month April through November.

German Twp. has two sirens, with one in Tremont City and the other in Lawrenceville. Madison Twp. has one siren.

Two of the townships where Wednesday’s tornado did the most damage, Harmony and Springfield townships, do not have warning sirens.

Springfield Twp. has researched the possibility over the last few years, township administrator Jennifer Tuttle said. She said the possibility and funding have been looked into to cover the “expansive geographic spread of the township.”

Tuttle encouraged residents to sign up to Hyper Reach for alerts.

Springfield Township road crews will begin a special brush collection for residents affected by the tornado Monday, continuing through Friday, Tuttle said. No logs, stumps or full trees will be picked up. Brush can also be composted at the township’s South Bird Road Facility during this time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Harmony Twp. does not have sirens either.

Pike Twp. vice president trustee Adam Steele said the township used to have sirens but not enough to cover the whole community. He said in evaluating cost for full coverage versus efficacy, the township decided to nix the sirens and rely on other methods to alert residents, like Hyper Reach.

Bethel Twp. does not have a working siren, but residents can hear the ones in New Carlisle sirens go off, township administrator Rhonda Ledford said.

The News-Sun could not reach officials from Green Twp. and Pleasant Twp.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

To sign up for the Hyper Reach emergency notification system, go to