Sunday, March 19, 2000

Sirens sprouting with spring


Tornado prompts new installations

BY MICHAEL D. CLARK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As the anniversary of last year's destructive tornado has neared, Tristate communities have been installing storm sirens at record rates.

        Area emergency management officials are determined to enter this spring's tornado season better equipped to warn the public should another killer tornado come through as one did on April 9. Four died and the twister's wake left millions in property damage.

        “A lot of sirens are going up all across the Tristate,” said Bill Turner, Butler County's director of emergency management agency.

        Though last year's tornado path missed Butler County — its path tore through northern Hamilton County and southern Warren County — Mr. Turner said the county will soon more than double its number of warning sirens from last year to more than 60.

        “Our county has really been pushing this issue,” he said.

        Wayne Hooper, president of Capitol Electronics Inc. and the company's Tristate sales representative for tornado sirens, said other area counties are readying for the storm season at an unprecedented rate.

        “Hands down, this has been the busiest year we've ever had for outdoor warning systems,” said Mr. Hooper, whose firm sells and installs sirens through out the Tristate.

        He said Butler County, which has seen Middletown, Trenton, Union and Liberty townships install or schedule installation for first-ever siren systems, is an area leader.

        “In the southwest Ohio market Butler County has been the most aggressive,” Mr. Hooper said, adding that Boone and Kenton counties in Northern Kentucky round out the top three most active in buying and installing new outdoor warning systems.

        “That storm,” he said in reference to the deadly April tornado, “really brought sirens to the forefront.”

        More residents in southeast Indiana's Dearborn County will be hearing the wail of sirens, thanks to increased tax revenues brought in by riverboat gambling in Lawrenceburg, said Bill Black, director of emergency management for the county.

        Within six weeks there will be 36 new tornado sirens installed — the county's largest increase ever at a cost of about $15,000 each — throughout Dearborn County, Mr. Black said.

        But the increase in Tristate orders for new sirens has caused shipping and installation delays for some communities.

        “There's definitely been a lot of siren orders on backlog,” said Mr. Black, adding that orders that used to take two to three weeks to fill now take up to 10 weeks.

        Mr. Hooper said order processing by his company, and others, is moving as quickly as possible. The Tristate has been one of the nation's busiest markets for sirens in the last year, he said.

        Emergency officials stressed that once the outdoor sirens are installed the public isn't automatically safer.

        “You can't just put up sirens and walk away. You need a total program,” Mr. Hooper said, referring to weather alert radios available for public purchase and recommended for use during the spring and summer storm season. Educating the public, especially children, as to how to best protect themselves during a tornado is also key, he said.

        Montgomery Fire Chief Paul Wright was at ground zero shortly after the April tornado leveled parts of his community. Montgomery has the same number of sirens — five — that were in place last year.

        “For Montgomery being a little over five square miles, and we have five sirens, we are pretty well saturated,” Chief Wright said.

        Montgomery's sirens are part of the larger Hamilton County outdoor warning system — the biggest in the Tristate with 166 tornado sirens. There are no additional sirens being erected in Hamilton County but emergency officials have increased how long alarms blare — five minutes rather than three — when dangerous weather is approaching.

        Clermont County Emergency Operation Officer Lorna Rose said her county learned from past tornadoes, specifically the July 2, 1997, tornado that struck Franklin and Washington townships, that outdoor sirens play an essential role in public safety.

        “When Hamilton County suffered their tornado last year it was another eye-opener for us,” Ms. Rose said.

        The county now has 22 sirens but will activate 20 more within six weeks.

        Five sirens were being put up in Warren County's Deerfield Township last week. The sirens will be placed throughout this township of about 20,000 to offer the most complete coverage in residential areas.

        The township spent $72,000 on the sirens. Deerfield Township Deputy Fire Chief Nathan Bromen said they should provide community-wide coverage.

        “We are very pleased that we were able to get these devices in time for spring,” said Deputy Chief Bromen. “Though they are only intended to be outdoor warning devices, the sirens will provide greater protection for all the people of Deerfield Township.”

        Dan Maher, deputy director of Boone County's Emergency Management Office, said the county's 28 new sirens cover about 85 percent of the county's population.

        “We've tried to locate the sirens in places with lots of outdoor activities like golf courses and parks,” Mr. Maher said.

        But there are still large stretches of the Tristate not covered by sirens, and Jesse Kirby know he lives in one of them.

        The Morgan Township man lives just west of the small community of Shandon in rural western Butler County. He is not within earshot of a tornado siren and worries about children playing outdoors.

        “If they are out, and not listening to radio or watching TV, they might never know a tornado is coming,” Mr. Kirby said.

        Enquirer reporter Kevin Aldridge contributed.

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