After a tornado flattened a small town near Mansfield in April, and before eight separate tornadoes devastated portions of Ohio on Memorial Day, reader Mina Hosfeld asked a question.

“I'm trying to figure out if the city of Akron has an outdoor warning siren for bad weather,” she wrote.

“I know that other local cities do, and even the University of Akron has its own, but I've lived in Kenmore all my life and have never heard one.

“Is it just something else that Akron skimped on?”

Well, I suppose you could put it that way. But Akron is not alone.

Only 59 percent of the cities, townships and villages in Summit County have sirens, according to Tommy Smoot, director of the county's Emergency Management Agency.

The issue was discussed at the county level during the late 1980s, but nothing was done. Akron Fire Deputy Chief Richard Vober says a study conducted to evaluate the feasibility of a countywide siren system “determined that it would not be cost-effective because of the topography of the county, which affects how the siren sounds travel.

“The county executive at that time determined to leave it to the local communities to address on their own.

“Several communities decided to install the sirens and have maintained them for many years. Some of these communities have now determined that the cost of sustainability is high and may be considering removing them.”

Given technological developments during the last couple of decades, Vober doesn't think the issue is a big deal.

“With the advent of cellphones and weather radios, the alerting system using towers and sirens are becoming outdated compared to systems that send alerts directly to residents,” he says.

Which leads us to some good news: All Summit Countians can sign up to get emergency alerts sent to their cellphone, landline and/or email.

If your landline is listed in the white pages, you're already on the alert list. That covers 116,000 households and businesses. But nobody's cellphone is automatically added. To do that, you need to sign up.

It's called "Reverse Alert," and it's free. You can add your info by going to this website: reversealert.net. (Please note that it's .net, not .com.) The alerts work with just about any device, including those for the hearing-impaired.

Apparently, Reverse Alert is an extremely well-kept secret, because only about 4,000 people have signed up. In a county of 542,000 — almost all of whom own cellphones — that's a measly 0.7 percent of the residents.

Although Reverse Alert is a great concept, there are still times and places where sirens are the only way to reach people. Exhibit A: the University of Akron.

As university spokeswoman Cristine Boyd puts it, "The outside sirens are a necessity, especially for those who are using the playing fields for athletics."

UA spent $125,000 to install three fixed sirens on the edges of the campus, pointing inward, and another near the center of campus that rotates 360 degrees. The sirens, which cost $2,400 per year to maintain, are part of a comprehensive alert system that includes internal alarms and voice commands in all buildings, as well as a text-messaging system similar to Summit County's.

Boyd says city residents in University Park, Middlebury and downtown Akron often can hear the sirens, too.

No matter where you live in Summit County, signing up for Reverse Alert is well worth your time.

If you've looked at photos or videos of the latest wave of tornadoes, you already know that a few extra minutes of advance warning can quite literally mean the difference between life and death.

 

Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or bdyer@thebeaconjournal.com. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31