News From Terre Haute, Indiana

News

January 19, 2014

Bill to set storm siren standards

Effort comes in wake of devastating November full of tornadoes

INDIANAPOLIS — When a potent weather system moved through Indiana last November, bringing 28 tornadoes, it was up to local officials to decide if and when to trigger their emergency warning systems.

Some sounded their outdoor storm sirens as soon as the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch. Others waited until the more urgent tornado warning was issued.

In hard-hit Kokomo, no sirens were sounded because the city doesn’t have them, relying instead on weather radios and the media.

Proposed legislation in the Statehouse would change that, mandating that all communities follow a statewide emergency-warning protocol established by the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. It would cover both storm sirens and the new technology-based “mass notification” systems — like one Kokomo recently adopted —that send automated warnings to cell phones, landlines and other devices.

Cost to the state of implementing the legislation, including monitoring counties to make sure they comply, may run as high as $400,000, according to a fiscal impact statement from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. It’s unknown what the potential cost may be to local communities.

The bill was filed by a lawmaker who fears confusion over what the storm sirens mean since there is no uniform standard for when and how they’re used.

“If you’re in Lafayette and you hear a weather siren go off, it might have an entirely different meaning than in Greenwood where I live,” said Republican state Sen. Brent Waltz. “I don’t care what the standards are, as long as citizens know what a siren means when it goes off.

Sen. Randy Head, R-Logansport, who chairs the House Local Government Committee where the bill has been assigned, has set a hearing on the legislation for Wednesday.

Some similar legislation, authored by then-Sen. Connie Lawson of Danville (now Secretary of State) was passed in 2008. It required the state Homeland Security Department to gather information on existing storm sirens, establish minimal technical standards for new sirens and define when those sirens should be activated.

But there was a catch: It applied only if counties agreed to provide the information and accept the department’s help. Not a single county ever opted in.

John Erickson, Homeland Security spokesman, said the state can’t force counties to follow a uniform siren protocol nor demand that they install them. Nor can the department compel counties to provide information on their existing warning systems.

“They’re totally under local control,” Erickson said. “We don’t own them, and we don’t maintain them. Counties have that responsibility.”

No state has a uniform standard method for sounding those public siren systems, nor is there a nationally accepted protocol for issuing the all-clear alerts.

But federal safety experts want that to change. In November, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institutes of Standards and Technology issued a report calling for nationwide standards for weather-emergency notifications, including outdoor sirens.

“Across the country, there is no standard method for sounding outdoor public siren systems, which has led to variations in siren usage, activation procedures, and sounding patterns among U.S. communities,” the report authors found.

That finding was based on the agency’s investigation of the deadly May 22, 2011, tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo., claiming 163 lives. The high death toll was blamed in part on flaws in the warning-siren system. There were reports that some people ignored the sirens, didn’t hear them or were confused by an all-clear siren triggered just before the tornado hit.

But developing a protocol for when a siren should be sounded may not be easy because there’s disagreement even among experts.

Dan McCarthy, the National Weather Service chief meteorologist in Indianapolis, said the NWS doesn’t have a policy on when local officials should sound their weather sirens.

“We all have our own personal opinions about it,” McCarthy said. “But it’s up to local communities to make those decisions.”

One area of agreement is that no one should rely on the sirens alone.

Erickson said the outdoor warning sirens were installed in many communities during the Cold War to warn residents of a potential foreign attack. It was only later that they were used to warn residents of impending storms.  

“They should be seen as a part of a larger warning system,” Erickson said. He advises residents to rely on a variety of tools, including weather radios and TV and radio broadcasts.

A bill passed by the House last week may aid that system: It designates trained TV and radio engineers and technicians as “first informers.” It allows them to travel into areas restricted by weather emergencies or disasters to repair their damaged broadcast equipment so they can get back on air.

“The goal,” said the bill author, Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City, “is to keep people safe and informed.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
News
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Dempsey: Putin May Light Fire and Lose Control Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Police: Doctor Who Shot Gunman 'Saved Lives' Arizona Prison Chief: Execution Wasn't Botched In Case of Fire, Oxygen Masks for Pets Anti-violence Advocate Killed, but Not Silenced. Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive Mobile App Gives Tour of Battle of Atlanta Sites Raw: Protesters, Soldiers Clash in West Bank Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Israeli American Reservist Torn Over Return Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce
NDN Video
Big Weekend For Atlanta Braves In Cooperstown - @TheBuzzeronFox Chapter Two: Becoming a first-time director What's Got Jack Black Freaking Out at Comic-Con? Doctors Remove 232 Teeth From Teen's Mouth Bradley Cooper Explains His Voice in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' Deja vu: Another NYPD officer choke-holding a suspect 'Fifty Shades of Grey': Watch the Super Sexy First Trailer Now! Reports: Ravens RB Ray Rice Suspended For 1st 2 Games Of The Season Air Algerie plane with 119 on board missing over Mali Diamond Stone, Malik Newman, Josh Jackson and others showcase talent Free Arturo - The World's Saddest Polar Bear A Look Back at Batman On Film Through The Years LeBron James -- Dropped $2k On Cupcake Apology ... Proceeds To Benefit Charity Snoop Dogg Says He Smoked Weed at the White House Raw: Fight Breaks Out in Ukraine Parliament Chris Pratt Interrupts Interview To French Braid Intern's Hair Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX Whoa! Watch "Housewives" Star Do the Unthinkable LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity
Real Estate News