Monday, January 20, 2014

Should States Regulate Tornado Siren Activation?

The State of Indiana is considering being the first in the nation to regulate under what circumstances tornado sirens should be activated. The Kokomo Tribune reports,

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.
Prior to the Joplin tornado, my response had been "no." Allow local communities to decide what best suits their needs. Since Joplin, I've changed my mind.

American has evolved into a mobile society. I know of a county where the three towns in the county each have different siren activation policies. That just doesn't work any more.

Secondly, in the 50's and 60's when sirens from WWII and for the cold war were first used to warn of tornadoes on a large scale, local communities often activated based on a firetruck sent to the southwest edge of town. Today, weather science has gotten so good that a policy primarily based around storm warnings makes sense.

I am not in favor of a federal standard at this point. Let's try it at the state level and learn the benefits and issues.


  1. It would be illegal... I know of no precedent that would allow a state to tell a local that something they purchased years ago now has to be used for only purposes deemed valid by the state government. ESPECIALLY in a Republican state.

  2. I think it would be a useful thing to do for all states to do something like this. This would clear up so much confusion and make it easier for everyone to understand as long as they understand that 1. It is an "outdoor" system only and 2. If you do hear it, tune your TV or Computer for more information right away.

    Your Joplin book made it extremely clear what false warning after false warning including confusion on when to activate can lead to.

  3. I can see standardizing things such as what the various sounds mean, when sirens are to be tested, prohibiting the use of an "all-clear" signal, and even requirements to have multiple control points, multiple data sources, and backup power. I'm not completely sure I would want the state to tell me when I MUST sound the sirens. That said, NWS is getting a lot better at refining their warning polygons and with improvements in radar technology and spotter training the false alarm rate will continue to drop. So perhaps setting an activation threshold which says "if your community falls within an NWS polygon then the affected sirens must be sounded" isn't such a bad idea.

    1. Indiana DHS did contact me for a copy of the "Best Practices" that my team developed. I think they did provide that to the local EMs, but as you noted the state cannot regulate something they don't own. It would have made more sense for FEMA to have required it when grant funds were used to purchase sirens, similar to how they required radios purchased with grant funds to be interoperable.

  4. Our city sounds the sirens any time, night or day, if winds hit 60mph even with no rotation or tornado threat. When I was growing up and even up until 5-10 years ago, they were ONLY sounded in the most severe circumstances. As someone living without a basement, it's no fun to be startled awake at 2am by the sirens for a non-life-threatening situation.

  5. John: to what city do you refer?


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