GREENFIELD — Twenty-two new tornado sirens are set to be installed throughout the county by fall.
The Hancock County Board of Commissioners is taking bids for an estimated half million-dollar project to overhaul the county’s storm warning system amid public safety concerns about the devices malfunctioning; the board plans to hire a company for the job next month.
At least seven of the county’s 26 tornado sirens, activated by the local dispatch center when severe weather strikes, aren’t working properly, officials have said.
Officials said the system that’s supposed to warn residents when bad weather is in the area is outdated, leading emergency management director Misty Moore to approach county officials about overhauling the system.
She laid out a nearly $500,000 plan to replace broken sirens and install additional sirens in under-served areas.
Recently, the Hancock County Council appropriated the funding needed for the project from the county’s food and beverage tax fund and the county economic development income tax funds.
The plan requires the company chosen to install the sirens to complete the work by Oct. 15 or risk a fine, a stipulation ensuring the project is completed as soon as possible, Moore said.
The 26 sirens throughout the county provide a severe-weather warning to just 50 percent of residents, which has long been a concern of local officials; 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, officials said — but many residents, especially those who work outside, still rely on them.
County officials will try to fix the seven sirens that are broken, or they’ll be replaced with new devices, Moore said. Early on, county officials estimated adding 20 additional sirens would increase the percentage of local residents who can hear them to 96 percent.
As part of the project, the county will also install software to make testing sirens easier as well.
Now, county officials rely on unofficial reports from residents who tell them when a siren near their home didn’t sound — such as during a weekly test at 11 a.m. Fridays. Officials said they try to avoid sounding the alarms for an additional test so as to not alarm residents when there is no severe weather, they said. Greenfield police have also spot-checked the sirens from time to time.
A software update will alert county officials to a siren malfunction during their normal weekly test from a computer screen in the 911 center.
Commissioner John Jessup said he wishes the county hadn’t missed the window to improve coverage during tornado season — which meteorologists consider March through June — but he’s happy the project is moving forward.
“We’ll have a lot better coverage next spring,” he said.