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Early storm warning siren system in the works

To save lives and make our communities safer, Harrison, Floyd, and Clark counties are each creating an outdoor early-warning siren system to alert citizens about tornadoes and possibly other emergencies.
Harrison County’s plan is to install 20 sirens at various locations in incorporated towns, near schools and in industrial parks. These sirens would be triggered remotely by radio from the sherriff’s office or from the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency office when the Nation Weather Service reports a tornado in the area. This system will be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Corydon will get four sirens with one for schools. Other sirens will be located in Lanesville, Elizabeth, New Middletown and other communities throughout Harrison County.
The siren project was instigated by Mike Newman, a Cinergy Corp. manager and the siren project chair. He moved to Clark County in 1990, just before a series of tornadoes blew through the area. He realized there was no early warning system in place.
“Over a two-week period as these tornadoes developed, I could faintly hear the sirens going off in Louisville and wondered why I didn’t hear any in Clark County,” Newman said. “I later found out that there was no early warning system in my county, and I decided that if the chance arose it would be a good project for me to work on.
“Most other counties and communities in Indiana have early warning systems but Harrison, Floyd and Clark did not.”
“These sirens are loud and can be heard for a mile — a two mile radius — when sounded,” said Greg Reas, director of the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency in Corydon. “When the sirens sound, we hope people will realize that there is an emergency and will get to their radio or television to find out exactly what is happening so they can take appropriate safety precautions.”
Indiana averages 20 tornadoes and four tornado-related fatalities each year.
“This project has been in the works for more than a year, and at first we focused on an early warning system for tornadoes,” Newman said.
“Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, we’ve done some rethinking of the project and might consider upgrading the system to include other hazardous events such as gas leaks, chemical spills and terrorism. A unique tone or series of tones could possibly be generated for differentiating between emergencies.
“I remember back to my childhood in the ’50s and ’60s during the Cold War era when we had siren systems to alert us of emergencies. In my town, three short blasts meant a fire, and one long sustained blast meant ‘The Bomb’ — get under your desk or ‘duck and cover’.”
John Belski, meteorologist for WAVE TV-3 in Louisville, is honorary chairman for the project. He said he’s glad to lend his name and influence to promote the siren system because sirens save lives.
“With the weather technology we have now, we can put out a tornado warning before the tornado comes out of a storm or touches the ground,” Belski said. “That can mean anywhere from five to 15 minutes extra to take cover.”
Belski lives in Floyd County. Before he moved here, he had never lived in an area that didn’t have a siren system.
“The sirens will provide early warnings for more than 40 percent of Harrison County’s population,” Reas said, “That is really good coverage for a county where people are so spread out.
“Technology has improved so much over the years that the National Weather Service can now use radar and Doppler weather techniques to pin-point weather systems which could become dangerous,” said Reas. “Hopefully, this early warning system will save lives.”
The cost of the system in Harrison County will be about $234,000. Because Harrison, Clark and Floyd counties have worked together to purchase 64 sirens from Federal Signal at about $1.1 million there was a savings of more than $282,000. The price includes software, training and installation of the equipment. Each siren costs $15,000.
Funds for the Harrison County part of the siren project came from the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, which gave $100,000; the Harrison County Board of Commissioners and Harrison County Council provided another $100,000, and $34,000 came from the Harrison County Community Foundation.
“This is the first large grant that we have made. We call this our signature grant,” said John Hartstern, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana.
“The foundation gave $100,000 to each of the counties because we wanted to fund a project that would touch as many lives as possible. We believe this early warning system will benefit the counties when it is really needed.”
“I know it sounds like a lot of money, but if we save one life, it will be worth the effort and expense,” said Reas.
The sirens are mounted on 50-foot-tall poles and have batteries and electric power hooked to them. “When you include the telemetry, they are quite costly,” Newman said, noting that the Cinery Corp. had provided one siren at a cost of $15,000 through the Cinergy Foundation.
“Installation of the sirens is expected to begin Monday, March 4, to coincide with Indiana’s National Severe Weather Awareness week. Reas estimates workers will set up two to four sirens a day.
Proposed locations will be the Palmyra Volunteer Fire Dept., Milltown, the North Harrison school complex in Ramsey, Crandall, Lanesville, three locations in Corydon and one at the Corydon school campus, New Middletown, Elizabeth, Laconia, Mauckport, New Amsterdam, Central, Morgan Elementary School, the South Central school campus, Heth-Washington Elementary School, and New Salisbury.