Marshall Co. reviews severe weather alert system after no sirens sound


Representatives from police, fire and hospital departments throughout Marshall County met Friday to discuss and improve current plans for severe weather and other emergency incidents.

The National Weather Service confirms at least three tornadoes touched down in Marshall County between June 30 and July 1, but no tornado sirens were sounded that night.

Clyde Avery, director of Marshall County's emergency management agency, says he received several phone calls from concerned citizens, asking why they heard no sirens during the severe weather event.

Avery says the Marshall County Sheriff's Department has control of most of the county's sirens, except for outlying towns like Bremen and Argos, which operate their own.

Michal Beguin, who lives in Plymouth, says it was the sound of wind that woke her up.

"That's all I heard, was the wind and then the thunder," Beguin says.

Without a weather radio or weather app on her phone, the only other way to be alerted was the tornado siren.

"Just the high pitch sound we know as a warning, to take warning and hide," Beguin says.

But Avery says outdoor tornado sirens are not designed to alert everyone in the county, only people who are outside at the time. Chances are, he says, people indoors can't hear the sirens because of strong winds.

"It's probably going to dissipate the sound and you probably aren't going to hear it," Avery says.

Still, it's a problem that the sirens never went off. Avery called a meeting with other department leaders to talk about ways to improve their system.

The Sheriff's Department relies on officers and trained weather spotters to monitor the weather and report any sightings of rotating funnel clouds. Or, it waits until the National Weather Service to issue a tornado watch before activating the sirens.

But Michael Lewis, warning meteorologist with the National Weather Service, says that's a mistake. While the service never issued a tornado watch for Marshall County, it did issue one for Starke and Pulaski counties, as well as a severe thunderstorm warning for Marshall County.

He suggested the county take thunderstorm warnings just as seriously as tornado warnings.

Avery also brought up the option of having a centralized emergency coordinator for the entire county to handle operations and logistics, but some departments felt it would only complicate things during such a chaotic time.

"It takes cooperation and coordination and communication between all the emergency response agencies to effectively manage any type of incident," Avery says.

He adds the county feels a duty to protect the people living there, but no one should depend solely on tornado sirens -- every household should have a NOAA weather radio or have an alert system installed on their phone.

Beguin agrees the responsibility falls somewhere in the middle.

"I think the county has a responsibility, for sure, to take care of its residents, but I also think everyone has a responsibility as an individual to take care of their own safety as well," she says.

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