Cause for Alarm: Part Three

Published: .
Updated: .

Reporter: Bob Segall
Producer: Gerry Lanosga
Photojournalist: Bill Ditton

Every Friday morning, Hancock County puts all its tornado sirens to a test.  Some work.  Some do not.  Either way, it really doesn't seem to matter.

On a recent test day, 13 Investigates reporter Bob Segall asked county officials how the test went.

Cheryl Skaggs, communications supervisor for the county sheriff’s department, said there weren’t any problems.

"We did not get any feedback saying they weren't working so no one said they did not work. No one said they did," she said with a laugh.  "So, I don't know."

Skaggs doesn't know, and the truth is, neither does anyone else.  The sirens are tested every week at the sheriff’s department, but no one gets the results.

And when we asked how many sirens are in Hancock County, the answers were all over the map.

"Sixteen or 17," said Larry Ervin, the county's emergency management director.

In a later interview, he said:  "Approximately 13."

And, according to Skaggs, "We have 11."


"I don't know how many," she confessed, laughing.

When we asked for a list, Ervin referred us to Skaggs, who eventually produced a handwritten list of locations for 13 tornado sirens in rural Hancock County (Greenfield, the county seat, has seven of its own sirens).

But there's just one problem: when Eyewitness News went looking for the sirens, we found some of them simply didn't exist.

Take the reputed siren in Buck Creek Township at the Volunteer Fire Department.  There isn't one.  The list also says there’s a siren at the Green Township Fire Department.  We didn't find one, and neighbors say there's a good reason.

"There's never been a siren here," said Tiffany Higdon.  "Never testing, none of that."

"Oh, no, if it was tested weekly we'd hear it weekly," said Mary Holland.  "No, that doesn't happen."

Holland is a volunteer at Eden Elementary School.  About 375 students attend the school right next to the fire station, where county officials believe they are testing a tornado siren every week.

"That's a communication problem at the very least, that they don't realize where the sirens are," Holland said.

And often, officials don't realize when sirens are broken.  One of the sirens in New Palestine hasn't worked in years.  And then there's one near the small town of Philadelphia about 50 yards from the mobile home park where Lloyd Young lives.

"It hasn't gone off in quite some time," Young said.  "I'm usually here every Friday morning and there was no sound at all today."

Young can see the siren from his front porch, but he hasn't heard it for months.

"In a manufactured home, everybody has fear of a tornado," he said.  "I'd like to see 'em get it fixed."

Young said he’s called the sheriff's department three times in three months to report the broken siren, but so far, no one has repaired it.

We asked Cheryl Skaggs if there's any chance of getting the broken sirens fixed.

"That would be...I don’t know who’s responsible for that," she said.  “I don't know who's shoulders that lies on."

The sheriff's department says local towns should fix their own sirens.  But many towns disagree.

"It's really not our responsibility," said Sugar Creek Township's acting fire chief, Joe Fitzgerald.  "I really don't know who’s responsible for it."

Fitzgerald wonders why Ervin, the county's emergency management director, won't get involved.

"It's not his problem; he's not interested in it," Fitzgerald said.  "Has the problem been addressed with him?  Yes."

Ervin, however, said his agency can't help.

"It's just not economically feasible," he said.

So who's responsible for a broken siren?

"You'd have to go back and actually try to determine who installed the siren," Ervin said.  "Was it the township?  Was it the fire department?  Was it the town manager?  Was it the board of works?  Was it the council?"

Ervin said he understands people just want their sirens fixed.

"We want the siren fixed as much as they do, but there is no state or federal law or mandate that requires or says who's responsible for the systems," he said.

Even though the county isn't sure who's responsible for the sirens, it still tests them.  Of course, it doesn't get test results for sirens that do exist, and when those sirens break, the county can't do anything to fix them. 

So what's the point of the test?

"Right," said Skaggs.  "Exactly.  There is no point."

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