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Storm revealed flaw in warning system

While meteorologists warn that severe weather can happen at any time, Hoosiers typically associate strong, damaging winds and tornadoes with springtime. But in the past 60 days, Indiana has experienced two rounds of tornadoes.
“What we remember as normal is no longer the norm,” said Greg Reas, director of the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency. “Abnormal’s normal right now.”
Whether you choose to blame it on El Ni’o, La Ni’a or some other system, you need to forget about the weather as you once knew it.
“We can expect to see long-term, weather-altering effects from these systems,” said Reas, who’s quick to add he’s not a meteorologist, although he does work closely with those in the profession through the National Weather Service and has provided weather spotter classes to help train residents who can report severe weather.
While Mother Nature spared Harrison Countians of tornadoes during the very strong Nov. 10 storm, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the county.
It was during this warning that Reas learned of a flaw of the siren system.
“There’s no one in this county who wants the siren system to work flawlessly more than me,” Reas said. “Nothing man-made is infallible.”
The system, which consists of two parts – the console and the radio – is housed in the dispatch center of the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept.
“Each (part) has its own separate power supply,” Reas said. “I don’t know how it happened, and it doesn’t matter now, but the power supply for the radio was unplugged” when the dispatcher tried to activate the warning sirens on Sunday evening, Nov. 10.
Reas said there was no way the dispatcher would have known the radio was not plugged in, short of actually checking the outlet, since the console performed as designed.
“We tried to make the process as simple as possible,” Reas said. “The console prompts the dispatcher through the necessary steps” and does not indicate whether or not the radio is operable.
Once Reas realized the sirens were not sounding, he went to his office in Corydon and activated them through a back-up system. Later, once the immediate threat of the storm had passed and residents had been warned, the problem was discovered.
“This proves why back-up is important,” Reas said.
The siren system is also tested each month, on the first Saturday at noon, unless there is actually severe weather in the area.
Blackford County, northeast of Indianapolis, had a similar experience with its warning sirens during the Nov. 10 and Sept. 20 storms which produced tornadoes there. Officials said the sirens didn’t sound before the Nov. 10 tornado because the tornado formed so suddenly.
“That’s one thing we sort of lose sight of, that no system stands alone,” Reas said. “You have to rely on radio, TV, weather alerts; you can’t rely only on one warning method. You have to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.”
While meteorologists “get better all the time,” they actively seek out weather spotters who confirm what’s actually taking place on the ground, compared to what the meteorologists are seeing on their radar and other equipment.
“It’s moving away from an art to more of a science,” Reas said of weather prediction.

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