Marion County to replace warning sirens

Past tests of Marion County sirens showed an alarming failure rate.
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Bob Segall/13 Investigates

Indianapolis - Friday emergency management will announce a $5 million plan to repair or replace every tornado siren in Marion County after 13 Investigates exposed a dangerous problem. The new siren system will be very different.

Last spring, as tornados swept through central Indiana, 13 Investigates discovered a Cause for Alarm.

Dozens of tornado sirens in Marion County were not working. In fact, county records showed in recent years, the sirens failed to work properly thousands of times. And some of those failures came during severe storms, when the sirens were needed most.

That made Charlotte Weber pretty nervous. She told Eyewitness News, "It's not a very secure feeling not to have it." Mrs. Weber lives across the street from a siren which has been broken for a long time.

When we asked Randy Collins with Emergency Management, about the siren, he knew all about it. "That siren is just so old. That siren is not going to work. We don't want to put a lot of money into a siren that may break again the next week."

It has been a year. And now there is some good news for Mrs. Weber. This siren on the corner of her street is one of many that's going to be replaced. 

John Ball, Director of Marion County Emergency Management, says they've found some money. "The city has identified $4.9 million to completely replace the outdoor warning siren system in Marion County."

Ball says old sirens will be replaced with more than 100 new ones. More good news says Ball. "The new sirens will be heard from nearly everywhere in the county." He continued, "Everybody in Marion County should be able to hear a siren when this entire system is installed.

The old sirens will be replaced with much more powerful ones. As an example, a siren in Franklin Township can currently be heard from about a mile away. It's replacement will be heard from two miles away.

And the new system won't just be stronger, Ball says it will also be smarter. "We will be able to be much more targeted in our warnings."

In other words, if a storm is threatening neighborhoods north of the city, emergency managers won't have to set off every siren in the whole county. "The new technology will allow us to define a specific area of the city and county," he said, "to sound the sirens only in that area.

All together, the county will have 170 new and upgraded sirens by the end of the summer. Charlotte Weber knows a new siren near her house will probably be loud, but she says having a siren that works sounds good to her. "It will be strange. (I'll) Have to get used to it again."

Charlotte Weber knows a new siren near her house will probably be loud, but she says having a siren that works sounds good to her.

With Indiana's tornado season quickly approaching, county officials say the first new sirens will be installed within the next few days. The first priority is putting up sirens in areas that currently have no siren coverage at all.

Then one by one, work crews will begin replacing and upgrading every siren in Marion County.