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West End residents: Tornado sirens too hard to hear

Andy Ouriel • Jun 26, 2010 at 4:43 PM


Mary Brunner prepared herself for devastation. 

As tornadoes appeared to approach Sandusky from northwest Ohio on June 5, Brunner took precautionary measures to stay safe. She turned off every appliance and opened all the windows in her McCartney Road home. 

To hear any of the 43 tornado sirens alerting residents in the county, Brunner eliminated all excess noise in her home.

 Even with her house silent, the 48-year-old mother of two could only hear the faint whining  from sirens on Sanford and Anderson streets 2.6 miles away. 

Others, including many in Brunner’s neighborhood, didn’t hear the warnings at all.

Can you hear the tornado sirens? Weigh in on a previous posting here. 

Brunner’s home on Sandusky’s west end is outside tornado siren coverage. The county’s sirens can only alert people within a 1-mile radius when they are outside of their homes. 

The tornadoes never made their way to Sandusky. The two warnings only amounted to a gusting wind.

But just because the county avoided a potential disaster doesn’t mean the county shouldn’t try to improve its warning system, she said.

If tornadoes actually swept through the county – such as the one that killed six people in Lake Township on that same night – a similar fate could happen here if residents aren’t properly warned, Brunner said. 

“I feel like I have a right to be warned,” the lifetime Sandusky resident said. “More (sirens) should be placed so everybody can be safe.”

The sirens are performing perfectly and doing the job the county promised, said Bill Walker, Erie County’s Emergency Management Agency director.

“There is no guarantee you are going to hear them in your home,” he said. “That’s not what they were designed for.” 

Sound the sirens

The county plans to add more sirens when additional homeland security funds become available.

One area Walker proposed a new siren for is Vermilion Township.

Each siren’s initial cost is about $21,000. Townships or municipalities are then responsible for the upkeep and repairs for the sirens after one year. 

Walker understands the importance of tornado sirens, but said the county will not spend every dollar from homeland security funds on sirens. 

It’s also not possible to increase the sound of sirens. 

Tornado sirens cannot exceed 123 decibels at ground level per Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

Sirens, at 123 dB, are more than loud enough for people to hear outside their homes within a one-mile radius, said Dan Bodette, representative for Federal Signal Operations.

Yet if these sirens at that sound level are competing with other loud noises — say trains or traffic — more sirens need to be placed in a heavily populated area, he said. 

“If you are in downtown, or in an area where it’s louder, you are going to need more sirens because they have to overcome the ambient noise level that is already present,” Bodette said.

Tune in to the weather

Both Walker and Bodette encourage residents to purchase an All Hazards NOAA Weather Radio.

The radios, which are available at most major electronic retail stores, cost as low as $15.95 for the most basic package. Even the simplest radio will allow listeners to tune in and be aware of tornadoes approaching the area. For example, if Walker alerts the county and sounds the alarms, the National Weather Service will get an alert from Erie County and transmit the warning to the radios.

Every home should have a radio, Walker said. He understands not everyone might have the budget to purchase one, and if that’s the case, they should be alert at all times. 

“We can’t go out and buy radios for the people that can’t afford them, but we tell them to start being more cognizant of the weather,” he said.

But sirens remain the primary way to alert residents of danger. Brunner hopes the county understands many people still cannot hear the alarms, and if danger does approach the area, radios might be useless.

“If we lost power, we wouldn’t have known they were coming,” she said. “Everybody should feel safe."

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