Is Allen County’s emergency siren system still needed? Should it be improved? Answers will cost $28,000

Allen County has more than 50 warning sirens like this one in New Haven. A new $28,000 study will evaluate whether they are still needed or should be improved. ( file photo)
Bernie Beier

More than a year after Allen County’s homeland security director suggested the need to evaluate the effectiveness and necessity of the county’s 54 warning sirens, officials are poised to make that happen at a cost of $28,000.

The Allen County Commissioners Friday were expected to hire the Community Research Institute (CRI) at Purdue Fort Wayne to conduct interviews, review data and evaluate the existing system and potential improvements in order to “to better understand the need for and value of sirens.”

“The Allen County Office of Homeland Security is charged with assisting in the preparedness of Allen County government and its municipal jurisdictions for severe weather events or other hazardous conditions. A tool Homeland Security uses for this function is outdoor emergency warning sirens,” the proposed scope of services document states. “However, the sirens are installed, maintained and operated under a patchwork of jurisdictional obligations and commitments. Additionally, it is not clear the value the sirens provide to the public, especially with the diversity of Allen County populations and jurisdictions.”

The CRI will produce a report after reviewing the siren system here and elsewhere, meeting with state homeland security officials and representatives of local governments and identifying available siren equipment and other methods of emergency notification. CRI will also contract with the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Purdue Fort Wayne to conduct a survey and convene focus groups in order to determine residents’ perceptions of the value of sirens.

The work is scheduled to be done between November and June 2019, and “if the community’s interest in continuing with a siren network is found, recommendations for policies for equipment, operational procedures, maintenance, installation, locations relating to sirens” will be forthcoming.

Cost of the work will be split between the commissioners and the city of Fort Wayne.

In April 2017 the commissioners agreed to install a new siren in Waynedale at a cost of nearly $26,000, but Homeland Security Director Bernie Beier warned that the network is “old and antiquated, and we’ll be having a dialogue with our communities to ask if we should improve them and, if so, how to pay for it,” Allen County Homeland Security Director Bernie Beier told the County Commissioners Friday just before they agreed to pay $25,983 for a new warning siren in Waynedale. Multiplied by the 54 sirens countywide, upgrading the system could cost more than $1.4 million.

New Haven installed a siren in 2006, but prior to the Waynedale vote county officials last did so in 2002, when six new sirens were purchased in the wake of a tornado that hit the north side a year earlier. Beier said the sirens can be useful for reaching people outdoors but conceded they often cannot be heard indoors. Today, however, smart phones and other mobile devices are able to issue alerts instantaneously and in detail beyond the capability of any siren — just something else for CRI to consider, along with the fact that Beier has said he receives just two or three calls per year about the system now in place.