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When communities sound outdoor warning sirens

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — It’s a sound we’re all familiar hearing: outdoor warning sirens alerting us of severe weather. 

It’s something we take for granted, assuming there’s a universal policy in place to keep us safe. But there are some areas in central Indiana where sirens will be sounded when there is no threat at all.  

Outdoor warning sirens are for public safety, alerting those outside to get inside. They’re usually placed in highly populated areas near a park or sports complex. 

“I think they still serve a purpose today,” Shane Booker EMA Director Hamilton County.

Here in Hamilton County, while in storm operations mode each of these stations serves a purpose. From monitoring storm spotters, watching the radar to sounding the sirens. 

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“We will sound the sirens in the event of a tornado warning that the NWS polygon is for a particular portion of the county and we will sound sirens where the siren sound covers that polygon,” Booker says. 

While most counties in central Indiana follow the same protocol there is no statewide policy and it’s up to local municipalities on when they sound sirens. 

Monroe County, for example, has the capability to sound each siren separately but its policy is all or none. For example, when a tornado warning is issued for Stinesville in the northern part of the county, sirens in Harrodsburg some 20 miles away would be active, even though there is no severe weather threat there. 

“We saw from early on that doesn’t work for us. We don’t want people to get content and see it’s sunny outside. So from early on we want the ability to set the sirens off we want to set off,” said Carl Erickson Deputy Director Hamilton EMA.

And while sometimes these sirens can be heard from inside your home, that’s not their main purpose. 

Outdoor warning sirens are for those who are outdoors and really shouldn’t be your only method for getting severe weather information. Weather radios will go off if there’s a warning in your area or you can also download our Storm Track 8 app to get warnings too.

For Carl Erickson, it’s more than just pushing a button on a computer screen. He’s been sounding sirens for more than a decade and considers it a rewarding part of his job.  

“It’s a really cool thing to do, to let the public know something bad is going to happen and knowing that this agency had a key role in that is huge for me,” Erickson explains. 

Two different ways, both with the same purpose of alerting the public when severe weather is possible. 

Below is the criteria each county uses when sounding sirens. 

Marion County

  • Number of sirens: 170
  • When sirens are sounded: Activated when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning or a storm spotter verifies a tornado on the ground. 
  • Miscellaneous: Technology is available to activate only sirens in polygon warning however county EMA prefers to activate entire county to minimize confusion and let everyone know of severe weather. 

Hamilton County

Brown County

Madison County

Shelby County

  • Website: http://www.co.shelby.in.us/EmergencyManagement.aspx
  • Number of sirens: 27
  • When sirens are sounded: If National Weather Service issues a tornado or severe thunderstorm warning.
  • Miscellaneous: Doesn’t have the technology to set off individually, so all sirens will sound during a warning. County is looking into upgrading technology. 

Hendricks County

Boone County

  • Website: http://ibccn.org/ema/111.htm
  • Number of sirens: 43
  • When sirens are sounded: If National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, report of a tornado touchdown, confirmed tornado in an adjacent county and if in the storm path. 
  • Miscellaneous: Can set sirens off individually 

Hancock County

Morgan County

  • Website: http://morgancounty.in.gov/ema/
  • Number of sirens: 21 with 2 new sirens each year
  • When sirens are sounded: When National Weather Service issues a tornado warning. 
  • Miscellaneous: Getting new sirens to cover a larger area. New sirens will be able to connect with dispatch and put messages over it. 

Monroe County

  • Website: https://www.co.monroe.in.us/department/index.php?structureid=19
  • Number of sirens: 47
  • When sirens are sounded: When National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for the county, when storm spotter reports a funnel cloud. 
  • Miscellaneous: Has technology to sound sirens individually but has written policy to set them all off for the entire county. Reasoning: In case someone is traveling to that area and is driving into the storm we want them to know. In case storm takes a turn this way people are warned.  

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