Tornado sirens: Why some communities stay silent during severe storms

StormCenter 7 meterologist Jesse Maag explores Dayton's lack of tornado sirens, after the Memorial Day tornadoes left citizens questioning if that's the right call.

After an outbreak of violent tornadoes on Memorial Day, Dayton residents want what they haven't had for nearly 20 years: tornado sirens.

"We didn't hear anything...If it weren't for Channel 7 we wouldn't have known anything about it," said Joe Taylor of Dayton.

>> Why some areas in Dayton do not have tornado sirens

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The lack of an outside warning as an EF4 ripped through the northern half of Montgomery County caused fellow Dayton resident, Brenda Jewett, to question city officials on continuing a 20-year practice.

"I feel like our lives were put seriously in danger," she said.

However, that fear, City of Dayton Fire Chief Jeff Lykins said, is actually not founded.

At the time of the decision two decades ago, Lykins said, "It made fiscal sense to get rid of them."

With cell phones spreading as the most reliable way to receive weather notifications, the use of sirens seemed inefficient.

Smart phones do offer an unparalleled way to warn of approaching storms.

Jewett even mentioned in her testimony to the city council that if it weren't for her cell phone, she wouldn't have known of the incoming tornado strike.

In Ohio, state public safety leaders told Storm Center 7 that all siren decisions are left up to local governments. And for Dayton officials, the deciding factor was the cost, Lykins explained. "They typically range, including installation, from as low as $25,000 to as high as $40,000 each," Lykins said.The City of Dayton would require a total of 23 sirens to cover the entire city, costing anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000.And that price tag doesn’t include additional maintenance and operation costs. 
While tornado sirens are intended as a warning device for those outdoors to take shelter immediately, many people think they’re useful to alert everyone, including people inside."We need to be alerted as early as possible," said Sandy Corbin, who lives in Harrison Twp.,just 5 miles outside Dayton. "We also need the sirens to tell us." 
While Dayton is not the only city that does not use tornado sirens, rural areas seem to be the most likely to sound the alarms. The National Weather Service in Wilmington lists Mercer, Auglaize, Logan, Miami, Butler, Warren and Wayne County, Indiana as storm-ready counties. In short, these counties are highly prepared to warn its citizens of an impending tornado strike.

There isn't a grant to completely fund Dayton's lack of sirens.

However, Lykins said there are some alternatives.

"Homeland Defense offers some funding capabilities for that, but they don't offer a million dollars funding," he said.

Despite the cost, many people believe that saving lives doesn’t have a price tag.

So, what can you do if your community does not have active tornado sirens?

At a relatively low cost, you can purchase a portable weather radio certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Lykins described the radio as a smoke detector for severe weather. Some variations of the radio come with a self-charging hand crank that would ensure you receive updates even when the power goes out. Many even come with a port to charge your cell phone.