Protocol changes expected with new Hamilton County siren system

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - There was some confusion in Hamilton County Wednesday night, when some residents wondered why they didn't hear the tornado sirens during a severe thunderstorm warning.

An email from Mike Snowden with the County EMA to Commissioner Todd Portune stated, as of right now, their policy on sounding the sirens has not changed.

Portune said they will be meeting to look at a change soon, to coincide with completion of the county's new and improved siren system. He said there were literally 200 reasons why the county's new sires weren't up and running yet.

"15-percent of the populated area of Hamilton County did not get a warning at all," Portune said. "And 80-percent of the area that would get a warning, it would fail if there were a power outage."

So areas of Hamilton County without a siren at all will get the new ones first. Areas with existing sirens, that do not have a battery back-up, get replaced after that, until the entire county is covered.

"But it's going to take probably through the Fall of this year, in order to get them all installed," he said.

The delay came from 200 separate, environmental impact studies that, by law, had to be done, at every single siren location.

"It was a nightmare," he said. "It's done now."

It mostly had to do with checking the decibels for noise pollution. Areas lacking coverage right now include, "Green Township, portions of Whitewater and Crosby, some portions of Eastern Hamilton County as well," Portune said. "But the biggest block is in Western Hamilton County, where there's no outdoor warning system at all."

Under the old system, "The National Weather Service trips off the declaration of a warning," he said.

Then County EMA officials can activate the entire grid or pinpoint specific areas to sound the sirens in.

"The old technology, you had to activate the whole county," he said. "Even if the only area affected was a small portion of the County, no longer will that be the case, we'll be able to be much more localized geographically in terms of where the threat is."

Looming changes in protocol include the National Weather Service also being able to activate the sirens in a tornado warning situation.

Sirens would now only sound when the tornado threat is imminent, not in a thunderstorm warning situation, as had previously been the case.

"When did you start fighting for this?," we asked. "My second week in office as a County Commissioner in 2001," he said. And it wasn't until 2007 he said, when County Commissioner David Pepper seconded the motion, that the project finally got the green light and funding it needed to move forward.

The cost of keeping you safe? Less than$2 million Portune said, and when it's all said and done, we will have one of the best warning systems in the country.

"Money well spent, absolutely," Portune said. "No one will question the investment if it saves a life and it will."

Another cool feature of the new system is in heavy traffic areas, like down along the riverfront, some of the new sirens actually have talking capabilities, so you get a siren sounding, plus an actual voice telling you what to do, in case of a tornado or other county emergency.

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