Setting statewide warning system standards wise
Tuesday, January 21, 2014 10:00 AM
When to sound emergency weather sirens has been a topic for debate since warning systems were first introduced.
A bill before the Indiana House would resolve the debate by setting guidelines for initiating a warning.
Remember last November when 28 tornadoes roared through Indiana? 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.
The proposed legislation makes sense. It would mandate 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 that many receive on the cell or land line phones.
It's unknown what the potential cost may be to local communities, but we can't imagine it would be significant since the equipment already is in place in most cities and towns.
The bill would eliminate confusion over what a siren means.
"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, who supports the bill. "I don't care what the standards are, as long as citizens know what a siren means when it goes off.
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."
We're all for local autonomy, but this is a case where common sense suggests the entire state operate under the same guidelines.
If one life is saved, the effort will be worthwhile.