21INVESTIGATES: Are tornado sirens effective for severe weather warnings?

Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 6:18 PM EDT
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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - For decades now, tornado sirens sound across Allen County when a severe weather threat is in place. Are they effective? Are they reliable? 21Investigates is taking a closer look.

According to a map on the Allen County Department of Homeland Security’s website, at least eight tornado sirens aren’t functioning in the county.

Bernie Beier with the Allen County Department of Homeland Security says, first of all, never to rely on tornado sirens alone for when to seek safety. He says the sirens are also only meant to alert you if you are outside. They aren’t meant to be heard inside your home.

“They’re designed to get your attention and to look for additional information, on your phone, your tv, your radio,” he said. “Not your primary source of alerting.”

Beier says the system is extremely outdated and often unreliable. He says a lot of times people don’t pay attention to them either.

“There’s a lot of gaps in the system and that’s not unique to Indiana,” Beier said “Sirens have become a crutch, we think they’re important but when we start drilling down, they’re really not.”

Beier says each of the sirens across the county would be expensive to fix. He estimates $1 million just to do some basic upgrades on them that would last roughly 3-5 years. A more permanent upgrade would cost anywhere from $3 million to $5 million. He says, these days, people pay more attention to the emergency alerts on their phones and they’re trying to focus on expanding those kinds of alerts.

Ultimately, he wonders, are people seeking shelter when they need to? He says that’s the most important aspect to it all when it comes to severe weather threats.

“Don’t wait for the warning to take action, you have to have a plan before that alert goes off,” he said. “You gotta act before that warning is issued.”

Beier says they would like to be able to access emergency alerts to the publics phones like when an amber alert is issued, but they aren’t permitted to use that system for weather alerts. However, he says that’s something they are working towards.