Sounding the sirens: Keeping people safe

DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – It’s a sound we’re all familiar with tornado sirens going off during severe weather. It’s also something we take for granted, assuming there’s a universal plan in place to keep us safe when severe weather hits.

But in Montgomery county alone, those plans change from city to city. Sometimes following completely different philosophies.

Many people assume when they hear sirens a tornado is on the ground but that may not be the case. Some communities in Montgomery county sound sirens only when there is a tornado warning issued while others are activated for strong straight line winds. We also learned during our research some communities hear sirens when there is no threat at all.

It’s a sound many of us associate with severe storms. Outdoor warning sirens are there for public safety and they’re usually strategically placed near parks or fields. All to alert those who may be outside and in harms way.

“It would simply be to recognize not everyone may be near a radio or near a television or not have their smart device we try to be all inclusive with our emergency notifications as we can be,” Brookville Fire Chief Ron Fletcher says.

We checked with every community that has sirens in Montgomery county. We learned each one has a different policy about when to sound the sirens. In New Lebanon, Oakwood and Washington Township… the sirens only go off when a tornado warning is issued for those areas. But other communities like Brookville activate sirens not only if there’s a tornado warning but also if there’s a threat of damaging winds.

“We have a policy in place that at any point in regards to public safety that we should be warning folks who may be outside ball park, on the bike path those in their yards that they should be taking cover,” Fletcher explained.

At the Regional Dispatch Center in Miamisburg, Captain Jay Wheeler runs the day to day operations. It’s here where sirens for seven communities across Montgomery county are activated during severe weather.

“We’re going to set those off for the entire county no matter if only a portion of the entire county is effected by the tornado warning we set off all the sirens for everyone that we service,” Captain Jay Wheeler says.

Before 2007 the National Weather Service had the same philosophy. When they issued a tornado warning the entire county would be highlighted even though only a portion of the area was really at risk. For the last 10 years polygon storm based warnings have been used. These concentrate on a specific area that’s in the path of the storm.

On March 14, 2016 several tornadoes touched down in the Miami Valley including this one in Phillpsburg, a community the Regional Dispatch Center supports. The sirens were activated in Phillpsburg but also for six other communities.

Captain Wheeler of the Regional Dispatch Center tells 2 NEWS that if a siren goes off in Phillpsburg, they would go off in Miamisburg and Miami Township even if there was no threat in Miamisburg or Miami Township.

Captain Wheeler says dispatchers have the capability to sound sirens only in areas that are in the tornado warning polygon. But it’s policy at the regional dispatch center to sound them all when any part of Montgomery county is under a tornado warning.

“It’s a better safe than sorry policy when it comes to these and we just have to. To make sure we don’t miss anything. Just do them all at once,” Wheeler explains.

But for Brookville Fire Chief Ron Fletcher he wants to make sure people take action and don’t hesitate when they hear the sirens.

“We want them to go off when we test them and we want them to go off when there’s an actual emergency. We don’t want someone to question whether that is an intentional activation or it’s a mistake and there’s not a problem,” Fletcher explains.

As you can see two completely different ways of keeping people safe and there’s a good reason for that. We checked with Ohio State and Montgomery county emergency managers. Both tell us there is not a specific policy in place for when and how sirens are activated. They leave it up to each individual municipality.

Here’s a list of all the communities in Montgomery county with sirens and their outdoor weather siren policy.

 

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