GREENSBURG – There are seven early warning “sirens” installed atop telephone poles throughout Decatur County’s Washington Township. Anyone within earshot of one can attest to their efficiency at high noon on Fridays, when they are tested weekly.

Operated as part of a cooperative effort between the Greensburg Police Department, the Greensburg Fire Department and Decatur County Emergency Management, they are used to warn the public of impending extreme weather, national emergencies and the like.

The are maintained and paid for by a partnership involving Washington Township, the City of Greensburg, and the City of Greensburg Redevelopment District Board which utilizes TIF (tax increment financing) monies.

With tornadoes, lightning storms and weather of unpredictable frequency and severity becoming commonplace, the importance of the eight warning sirens installed in the Greensburg area is obvious. However, they have not all been operational of late.

“The horns that are not working are at the Honda Credit Union location on old Highway 46 North, on Highway 46 east of town near Levenstein’s, and the Montgomery Road location is being installed as we speak,” Washington Township Trustee Christian Rust told the Daily News. “And there’s a six week lead time when one is ordered.”

Upgrades

Research shows that not all outdoor warning sirens are alike, and even though marketed by a number of reputable manufacturers, there seem to be two major types.

Those up for replacement currently are predominately rotating sirens. As the name implies, they rotate on an axis turned by a motor.

According to www.sentrysiren.com, the problem with rotational sirens is that only one section of the circle around the siren is being covered by the siren’s full-decibel output at any given time. Sound waves are very directional, so the only area that will be covered by the siren is the area directly in front of the siren when it is activated.

A second common variety is a fixed system of many different trumpets wrapped around a circular chassis. These provide good coverage, but suffer in volume and don’t generally cover a large geographical area.

“We have ordered an omni-directional outdoor warning system,” Rust said. “It just has a lot more capabilities then the ones we are replacing.”

The newer style warning devices consist of omni-directional horns that nest atop each other and send high decibel alerts in all directions at once. Accompanied by digital encoders, they possess the capability of several styles of warning sirens, plus the ability to broadcast digitally created human voice.

“The advantages of these are that there are no moving parts, nothing to physically wear out,” Rust said.

Each unit can be maintained in a much easier fashion. Since all the parts are electronic, the control board can test each unit ultrasonically daily, without disturbing the public.

In a scenario where a specific threat to public safety is noticed, each unit can actually amplify an electronic “voice” and explain what the threat is, be it a chemical spill, a school shooting or another occasion-specific issue. Directions warning the public can be announced at high decibel levels in real time.

The Price Tag

Ordered from Electronic Communications Systems Inc. in Bloomington and manufactured by Whelen Outdoor Warning Sirens, they don’t come cheap, but the advantages are obvious.

“They are upwards of $20,000 each, and the voice encoders are a separate unit that the dispatchers will control,” Rust said.

The cost for full replacement of the units is being shared by the city, TIF Board, and Washington Township.

“We won’t be able to replace all of them at once, but we do plan to replace one a year,” Rust said. “I just think that’s a more economically wise way to steward the city’s money.”

In Washington Township, the sirens are located:

At the corner of Freeland and Montgomery RoadsOn Lincoln Street in front of Stacks RestaurantAt the former location of the Corner Store, where South Broadway turns into Park RoadAt Lake McCoyOn E. Ind. 46 near Levenstein’s/Oakley MonumentsIn the Honda Credit Union parking lotOn Ann Boulevard, near the Holiday Inn Express.

Greensburg Fire Department

Currently, the Greensburg Fire Department controls all weather sirens in the community.

“Chief Garrett wants to give up control of them in case we are on a run, and not available to trigger them,” said Assistant Fire Chief Brian Wenning. “There’s someone at dispatch all the time, and we’ll be able to set them off from here still, but they should have primary control.”

Wenning told the Daily News that the public often calls the Fire Department when the sirens sound at unusual times.

“We get the calls, but the Police Department gets them, and dispatch gets them as well. It’s just where ever people think to call,” Wenning said. “If the alarms are going off, the first thing we want people to do is to take cover. They’ve got to move to a place where they can be safe before they start calling anyone. Most importantly, they should never use the 911 line to call and ask why the sirens are going off. We don’t want people jamming the emergency lines unless they actually have their own life-endangering emergency.”

Wenning finished by saying anyone curious about why the emergency sirens are going off should call the regular Fire Department at (812) 663-8671 or the Police Department at (812) 663-3131.

Contact Bill Rethlake at 812-663-3111 ext. 7011 or email at bill.rethlake@greensburgdailynews.com.