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 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, the media and new mass notification system that sends alerts via cellphones, landlines and other devices.
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.
The bill was filed by a lawmaker who fears confusion over what the 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, said he hasn’t decided whether it will get a hearing.
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 establish minimal technical standards for the sirens and to define when those sirens should be activated.
But there was a catch: It only applied if counties requested the department’s help. Not a single county has ever opted in.
John Erickson, Homeland Security spokesman, said the state can’t force counties to follow a uniform siren protocol.