Thursday, April 15, 1999

Middletown hears call for sirens

Tornado puts issue atop list

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — After seeing the devastation from the tornado that slammed into parts of the Tristate on Friday, some residents want to know why the city has no tornado sirens.

        This city of about 55,000 residents is the only community of its size in Butler and Warren counties without sirens. Even neighborhoods and cities that are much smaller are equipped with them, residents point out.

  The number and location of civil defense sirens in Butler County:
  Hamilton: 7
  Fairfield: 9
  Oxford: 6
  Monroe: 4
  Fairfield Township: 4
  One is being installed in New Miami. Others are proposed in Liberty and Union townships.
        “It's disappointing, frightening, to learn we don't have something so basic,” said Jackie Schmitz, who recently moved to Middletown. “You'd think emergency preparation would be a priority.”

        The issue has been debated more than 25 years, and that debate will be renewed at the city commission meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Fred Sennet said.

        Mr. Sennet was executive director of the Middletown Area Safety Council from 1976-84. About 20 years ago, he said, a federal grant would have paid half the cost of si rens, but city commissioners “were hard-headed” and did not see the need for them.

        It's time to revisit the issue, he said.

        “I think it's extremely im portant,” Mr. Sennet said. “We need sirens. People say we don't have these bad storms very often, but you never know when you will need them. That could have been us that was hit Friday.”

        Funding and the question of the sirens' effectiveness appear to have been the major stumbling blocks in the past, said City Manager Ron Olson.

        Now residents want action. About 50 have called city hall since Friday's tornado asking about the city's emergency plan, said Mr. Olson. He said he will address the siren issue at Tuesday's meeting and may propose a program to get weather radios in homes.

        “We've had more calls on this than anything in the recent past,” Mr. Olson said. “There's a legitimate concern there. We need to do some things as a city to get better prepared, and we need to coach our residents to take responsibility and get personally prepared.”

        Resident Cherilu DuVal wonders why it's taken so long.

        “The only reason I can think of that we don't have them is cost,” she said. “I'm sure it's expensive, but I would think it would certainly be worth whatever it takes.”

        William Turner, director of the Butler County Emergency Management Agency, said each siren costs about $20,000. The number needed per community depends on land mass, population, topography and elevation.

        While many communities have sirens, “Whether or not they have enough is debatable,” Mr. Turner said, adding that he hopes to see the number of sirens in the county double within a year.

        “Then we get back to the key issue. These are outdoor warning sirens. They are not intended to wake you up if you're in bed sound asleep. People also need tone-alert weather radios,” Mr. Turner said.

        Mr. Olson said sirens are particularly important where people gather outdoors, such as parks.

        “But we must be careful that outdoor sirens don't give us a false sense of security,” he said. “I'm probably going to recommend putting in some type of outdoor warning system, but to make it clear that that is not enough. I think we need to encourage people to buy weather radios.”

        He also may recommend a program to subsidize the purchase of weather radios for low-income families.

        Mr. Sennet said both are needed, and he would like the city to buy the radios in bulk and sell them to all residents at cost.

        Mrs. DuVal said she would rest easier if the city takes action.

        “A combination would be good — sirens, radios and television — as many things as possible to alert people,” she said.

8 tornado sirens didn't work
In-home warnings considered
- Middletown hears call for sirens
Residents begin planning new homes
Academy makes room for 340 displaced students
Officially: 92 homes, 40 businesses destroyed
Restoration, demolition to begin
Road closings, curfews
How to help, get help
Mail service still disrupted
County officials report on impact, response