I shouldn’t expect to hear the sirens indoors? Really?!

Judging from the feedback we received after Operation Stormy Weather, a lot of people are like me and thought outdoor sirens should be heard indoors, too, to alert us to oncoming tornadoes.

IU_Notify_1254x931_px_RGBMy emergency management and continuity colleagues quickly set me straight – the sirens are called OUTDOOR warning sirens for a reason.

“If you are located near a siren you MAY hear it indoors, but DO NOT expect to hear them indoors,” said Ken Long, emergency management and continuity interim director at IU Bloomington. “They are meant to be used as outdoor warnings.”

Outdoor warning sirens – not “tornado sirens.” Long pointed out that some sirens are used for more than tornadoes. Some, like those at IU Bloomington, have voice capability and can provide messages and direct people to more information.

This outdoor-indoor factor surprised me because for most of my life outdoor sirens could wake me up from a dead sleep – so I just assumed they were supposed to. Until recently, however, I’ve lived in older homes and apartments typically constructed in the ‘40s or ‘50s. Now, I can barely hear the siren in my newer home unless I open a door or window.

My colleagues say this is why it’s important to take advantage of newer technology, such as National Weather Service radios, to have several types of warning systems, rather than just relying on outdoor warning sirens.

IU warns students and staff of tornadoes by sending an IU-Notify emergency notification. Receiving notifications by text is the quickest and most reliable way to receive them. Students and staff can check their IU-Notify settings by searching for IU-Notify in One.iu.edu to make sure they’re receiving the text notifications.

Bill Smith, emergency management and continuity director for IU’s regional campuses, said the following alert systems are available:

• Enhanced warning sirens, providing a greater coverage area of outdoor warning.
• National Weather service radios, which are programmable to your specific location or threat type.
• Emergency Alert System, a geographically specific national broadcast alert system provided by NOAA.
• More advanced weather monitoring systems, typically requiring a subscription, that allow individuals or organizations to sign up for alerts.
• Smart Phone application that can be downloaded and adjusted to monitor your current location for threatening weather.

New technology has greatly increased the accuracy of storm prediction, Smith said, allowing for advanced warnings and more effective responses by individuals. But none of the warning systems is perfect. The best approach, he said, is to use several systems that can overlap and complement each other.

Sirens, by the way, initially were erected in 1950 as part of the Civil Defense Act and were considered an alert mechanism in case of atomic warfare. They started being used for tornado or other emergencies in the ‘70s.

IU Emergency Management and Continuity is part of Public Safety and Institutional Assurance, which falls under the Office of the Executive Vice President for University Academic Affairs and the Office of the Vice President for IT and CIO.

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