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Tornado siren testing a simple but serious task

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Many Hoosiers got a loud reminder twice Thursday that severe weather season is upon us.

Marion County tested its tornado sirens for Severe Weather Preparedness Week.

Tests happen weekly, but we only hear them every so often.

Thursday was just a special occasion that unfortunately for some homeowners was a roaring surprise.

With a simple click of the mouse on a big, digital red button on a computer screen that reads “Weather Alert All,” Hoosiers around Marion County get warned that a tornado is on the way.

“Turn it off, we got the idea,” griped Deb Mills.

Her angst against the sirens is understandable considering she lives directly across the street from one.

“Oh it just goes on, it seems like forever,” she said.

“And you get to hear the Doppler Effect because of its direction,” said her husband Jeff. He said cranking up the volume on this TV and closing all the windows in their home doesn’t help.

But that Doppler Effect, or its rotation, is exactly what’s supposed to happen. And testing the sirens is one way to make sure.

“It’s not just one day a year during Severe Weather Week that we test them, we test them every month and every week,” said Gary Coons, Chief Division of the Indianapolis Dept. of Homeland Security.

A lone computer among the many at the IDHS is where those tests happen. Once the warning is activated and the sirens blare, information works its way back letting the department know if a siren didn’t sound or didn’t turn. The report takes anywhere from 3-5 hours to return.

“We locate what siren it is, what number it is and then we get a hold of our contractor to talk to them about what they’re seeing,” said Coons.

The computer that ran the evening test was at the Marion County Dispatch Center. Another one is across the hall where fire departments are dispatched. The fourth is at the Indianapolis International Airport. All of them can send the signal to get all 170 sirens in the county ringing.

“These are outdoor warning sirens. They’re not for indoors. They’re not to wake you up in your basement when you’re asleep,” said Coons.

Because of that, he recommends people get a weather radio. That way they can hear alerts inside their home. But if you’re like the Mills family, a roaring warning is only a few feet away.

“Come over on the first Friday of every month at 11 a.m. and you can hear,” Mills said with a smile.

For the record, the Mills family appreciates that the sirens work. It’s just not easy having one as a neighbor. Testing isn’t limited to one Friday a month. Sirens are actually tested every Friday but not always with the sound blaring.