HANCOCK COUNTY — The county commissioners have recommended officials move more quickly on a project to overhaul the county’s storm warning system after a test showed more sirens have stopped working.
Emergency Management director Misty Moore told the board this week Greenfield police officers helped test sirens in the city last Friday and reported four of the seven in city limits don’t work — two more than the last time they were checked.
The system is aging, and she wouldn’t be surprised if more quit working, she said. Another test was planned for this week.
The conversation came during a week that was unusually warm for February and as spring nears — the time of year tornadoes are most likely to occur.
Altogether, at least seven of the 26 sirens stationed around the county aren’t working properly, Moore said. The office will keep testing sirens to ensure the others are operating correctly.
Moore had approached county officials about overhauling the system earlier this month; she’s laid out a nearly $500,000 plan to replace broken sirens and install additional sirens in undeserved areas.
The county council asked Moore to create a three-year plan for replacing the storm warning system to make it more affordable.
However, the commissioners this week passed a resolution recommending the council consider doing the work sooner rather than over the next three years, citing concerns about resident safety.
The 26 sirens throughout the county provide warning to just 50 percent of residents; with seven broken, the percentage of residents who will hear the blare should a tornado be nearby is even smaller.
Outdoor tornado sirens aren’t intended to be a primary notification of severe weather — weather radios are the fastest, most accurate and reliable way to get information about severe weather — but many residents still rely on them, officials say, especially those who work outside.
The entire east side of the county shares three tornado sirens — and the siren in Charlottesville doesn’t work.
The northwest side of the county, including Fortville and McCordsville, shares 12 sirens. Three are installed near and around New Palestine, and one is set up on U.S. 40 near the Sugar Creek Township Fire Department.
Commissioner John Jessup said he believes the county needs to fix the system as soon as possible. Taking on the project over three years will save about $40,000, but he worries about the lack of coverage provided for some residents.
“I would hate to see a tornado touch down in one of those areas in year two or year three,” he said. “Public safety is our first priority.”
County officials have a responsibility to provide public safety to residents, and while sirens aren’t intended to be a primary warning system, many people don’t have cellphones or weather radios, Jessup said.
“I hope we can come up with the funding to do it now,” he said.
Jim Shelby, the county’s budget committee chairman, said the county council will likely ask Moore to look for grants to help fund the project, but will ultimately pony up whatever money is needed for the project.
He was surprised to learn many residents, especially farmers, rely on the sirens to warn them when severe weather is nearby, he said.
“We’ll be talking about it,” Shelby said.
The Hancock County Budget, Efficiency and Revenue Committee typically meets the first Wednesday of the month to discuss county spending. The next meeting is planned for 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Hancock County Jail, 123 E. Main St., Greenfield.
The Hancock County Council meets the second Wednesday of the month at the Hancock County Courthouse Annex, 111 American Legion Place. The next meeting is scheduled for March 8.
The meetings are open to the public.