Monday, April 12, 1999

Sirens need to sound louder, longer, readers say

'Three minutes . . . is not going to wake you up'

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Area siren map
        The silence is what Sandra Koenig remembers most. Mrs. Koenig of Montgomery said she heard no thunder, no wind and no civil-defense sirens before Friday's tornado screamed past her house on Convo Court.

        “I remember thinking how silent everything seemed. Even though it was lightning like crazy, I didn't even hear thunder,” she said.

        “Then, all of a sudden, I heard a constant stream of sound, a steady rumbling.

        “I didn't hear any warning sirens from the time I woke until the time I heard the tornado go overhead.”

        More than 200 people responded to an Enquirer question asking if they heard the sirens. Many said they did not.

        There are 175 warning sirens scattered throughout Hamilton County. They reach 75 percent of the population. Warren County, where there also was storm damage, has 23 sirens that reach about 40 percent.

        The sirens are meant to alert people outside of inclement weather.

        Officials say the system never was intended to wake everyone. Personal weather-alert radios are best for that, they say.

        Jean Brensen, 62, of Sycamore Township, said she was awakened three times by her weather radio as the twister moved across Indiana and into Ohio. After the third radio blast, Mrs. Brensen heard the outdoor siren, about a mile from her home.

        “That's when we headed downstairs,” said Mrs. Brensen, whose home was not damaged.

Danny Osterman, 15, cleans debris from a second-floor bedroom in his cousin's house on Cornell Road in Sycamore Twp. Cincinnati Enquirer/Liz Dufor
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        The sirens blare whenever a tornado has been sighted or when there is a combination of a tornado watch and severe thunderstorm warning in effect. They are activated for three minutes before being shut down until a new alert is issued.

        That's not good enough for Mary Meno, who did not hear the siren. Her Symmes Township home was destroyed.

        Mrs. Meno said she usually hears a siren in nearby Montgomery when the county tests the system at noon on the first Wednesday of every month.

        “I believe they need to run those sirens for at least an hour,” she said. “Three minutes in the middle of the night is not going to wake you up. And I think they need more of them.”

        Federal guidelines call for the three-minute warning tone, and have for about 50 years, said Don Maccarone, director of the Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency. But the county's policy could be changed, he said.

        “That's one issue we're going to take a look at,” he said.

        Some people who own weather-alert radios say they don't use them because there usually is no tornado to go with the alarm.

        Sue Rinehart, 60, of Blue Ash, said her radio sat in a drawer for 10 years until Saturday.

        “I plugged in our weather radio, since we heard there were going to be more storms,” she said. “A thunderstorm came over us around midnight. At 1:30 a.m. the radio alarm screamed an alert. Now I remember why we unplugged the (darn) thing and put it in a drawer.”

        Debi Hertel of Reading has to rely on her family to hear the sirens. Mrs. Hertel has lost more than 70 percent of her hearing and wears two hearing aids.

        No one in the Hertel family heard the sirens Friday morning.

        “The lightning woke me up, but I figured that since no one else in the house was awake it must not be too noisy outside,” Mrs. Hertel said.

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