Improving county’s warning siren system requires cooperation

By C.O. Montgomery

Recently the Daily Reporter ran a front-page story (“Sounding the call,” Feb. 11, A1) in reference to our antiquated so-called tornado sirens.

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. This was a hot topic more than 11 years ago when I was the Sugar Creek Township trustee. We realized then that not only was the township lacking in early warning sirens, a good portion of Hancock County was also.

One of the duties of a township trustee is public safety, unless there is an incorporated town that employs first responders. Sugar Creek Township has two towns that are incorporated and partial coverage for another one. The towns are New Palestine, Spring Lake and the Hancock County portion of Cumberland.

I took office in 1997. It was brought to my attention that our township did not have coverage in the outlying areas.

At the time we had an antiquated warning system located in New Palestine. The siren had to be manually activated. The county had a system that could be electronically set off. But coverage was woefully inadequate then. It is still woefully inadequate now.

To summarize, our township had two sirens, both located in New Palestine. It was beyond the pale to think that the population living a few scant miles from New Palestine would even hear these sirens.

We had none in Spring Lake; it was hoped that those folks would hear the one in Greenfield. We had none in Cumberland. It was hoped that they would hear the sirens in Warren Township.

What this meant was that our township was not protected in the case of severe weather. The thinking at that time was that these areas were not populated enough for coverage.

A committee was quickly formed to investigate the problem and find a solution. The solution was for Sugar Creek Township to purchase — from the city of Greenfield — its old sirens. We bought five. Allegedly they were in working order; we later found out only two worked.

This was about the time Hancock County began looking into sirens for the rest of the county. County commissioners put the burden back on the townships. The mentality then was, if you want them, you fund them.

Meetings took place. Sugar Creek Township Fire Department’s EMT Chief, Greg Hunt, did extensive research on the issue. Hunt worked in conjunction with all the governmental agencies in Hancock County. He also contacted counties that surround Hancock County. By doing this, he was able to plot the best placement of the towers.

It really is pretty simple. It is called propagation of signals — the idea being that no matter where one lived in Hancock County, one would be able to hear a warning siren.

I thought the plan was great. Was it going to cost the county some money? Yes, it was. However, by all the various governmental agencies working together, the plan would have been doable.

Now we come back to the screaming headline in the Feb. 11 edition. Yes, I do know about Hancock County’s Emergency Management Plan. I do know about the enhanced 911 plan. Thank God for these. Thank God for weather alert radios. But is this enough protection? I submit that it is not.

A lot of work went into preparing and implementing our enhanced 911 plan. Special kudos should go to Major Brad Burkhart of Hancock County sheriff’s department; he went beyond the call of duty to help implement this plan.

As emergency management director Misty Moore stated, “The county needs to overhaul the county’s current system.”

I wholeheartedly agree. I also wholeheartedly agree with County Council members Jeannine Gray and Kent Fisk. Will it cost the county some money? You bet it will. But with creative financing, it is doable.

The commissioners and council should look into Homeland Security grants. They should immediately get State Sen. Michael Crider and Speaker of the House Brian Bosma on board with the idea. State Rep. Bob Cherry has also proven he is a consistent fighter for Hancock County.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer and Indiana’s two U.S. senators, Todd Young and Joe Donnelly, should be contacted.

I implore Commissioners Brad Armstrong, John Jessup and Marc Huber: Please do not kick this can down the road. We need a complete early warning system for the people of Hancock County.

C.O. Montgomery of New Palestine is a former teacher, Sugar Creek Township trustee and co-director of the Hancock County Character Council. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.