MOUNT VERNON — Reports that some outdoor warning sirens in the county may not have sounded during this weekend’s tornado warnings are being investigated and addressed by the Knox County Emergency Management Agency.
EMA Director Brian Hess said he received reports that one of the two outdoor warning sirens in Apple Valley and one siren in the Bladensburg area were not functional during Friday’s or Saturday’s storms.
“We had reports they didn’t go off, so on behalf of those communities we contacted VASU, which installed [the sirens],” Hess said.
“Within an hour or so we were out testing those,” Matt Sturgeon, EMA deputy director, said.
Jeff Harmer, general manager of the Apple Valley Homeowners Association, which is responsible for maintenance of the Apple Valley sirens, said the charger which provides battery power to the siren was damaged during a power surge some time before this weekend’s storms.
“We had checked it before Friday and Saturday’s storms and knew it wasn’t working,” Harmer said.
VASU Communications, which services the siren, had already been contacted and determined which part to order to fix the problem, according to Harmer.
Harmer said the siren not working is the one which can be heard in the southern part of Apple Valley. Harmer said the siren is owned by the Apple Valley Homeowners Association and Howard Township, but Apple Valley is responsible for maintaining the siren.
Hess pointed out that Knox County EMA assists municipalities with the purchasing of sirens within the county, helping them obtain grant funding to cover part of the cost.
However, once the sirens have been purchased and installed, the municipalities which purchased them are responsible for the maintenance and repair of the sirens.
“We’ll assist them by any means we’re capable of, but our primary duty is acquiring the money to purchase them,” Hess said.
He estimated the cost of each siren at around $20,000.
Harmer said he wanted to remind people that relying solely on the outdoor sirens for storm safety is not recommended, and that the sirens are meant as a means of warning people outdoors of storm danger.
“These are not intended for alerting you inside; you can’t rely entirely on the siren,” Harmer said Sunday. “These are outdoor warning devices, and everyone should have a weather radio.”
“It’s not really intended to be the sole means of communication,” Sturgeon agreed.
Hess and Sturgeon said many people seemed to continue with their regular activities Friday and Saturday despite the activated warning sirens, which concerned them.
“I warn people about becoming complacent,” Hess said. “That’s just as much of a danger as not having a siren.”
He said the sirens are activated at the Knox County dispatch center when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for the county.
“A warning means that hazardous weather is imminent, occurring, or has a very high probability of occurring,” Sturgeon explained.
No matter which part of the county is affected by the warning, the entire county siren system is activated.
Hess said this weekend’s storms are a good example of why the entire county is always notified if any part of the county is in the path of a dangerous storm.
“We had warnings this weekend start in the northern part of the county and then affect another part of the county within moments,” he said.
Hess said being prepared for dangerous weather means paying attention to forecasts and current conditions, and knowing what to do before the sirens begin blasting their warning.
“Don’t become complacent; always have a plan,” he said.
He said using common sense when dangerous weather is forecasted means not putting distance between yourself and appropriate shelter while outdoors.
“Don’t get yourself in a situation where you can’t seek shelter, and stay close to where you can seek adequate means of shelter,” he said.
And when the sirens are activated, Hess said, don’t try to finish what you’re doing before heeding their warning. Instead, go immediately to safety, wherever your designated shelter is.
“If anyone has any questions about tornado safety, they are welcome to contact our office at 393-6772,” Hess added.