Late on the night of Memorial Day, May 27, many central Ohio residents were stirred from sleep by sirens sounding tornado warnings.

But the signature wail was missing from Powell and many surrounding townships, which lack one of Delaware County's 16 sirens.

For comparison, according to the Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security website, Franklin County has 196 sirens, with at least one in each of the 42 jurisdictions of the county.

That difference might seem stark, but Sean Miller, director of Delaware County Emergency Management, said sirens aren't the be-all and end-all of severe-weather warnings.

"Generally speaking, sirens are part of the warning equation," he said, "but they are not the entire warning equation by themselves, nor is any system, really."

The sirens, Miller said, are designed to alert only those who are outside. Even if a siren is close, it might not be able to alert a sleeping or distracted family inside a home.

"When you think about it, Delaware County has a lot of new homes, which are very well-insulated. That even compounds the issue of hearing them indoors. Of course, some people will, but it's just a bonus. That's why we really strongly advocate for having multiple forms of notification."

In 2019, Miller said, relying only on sirens is not the smartest idea. He pointed to the nationwide emergency alert system -- commonly thought of for Amber Alerts -- as a more efficient and reliable way of being notified of severe weather.

That software, he said, comes included on all new smartphones and would have to be "opted out" or shut off rather than activated.

He said those alerts are only for severe weather such as tornados or floods, not for common thunderstorms.

"I would strongly urge folks to not opt out of it because it is a very good system," he said. "It's based off of your cellphone's location to a given hazard."

Miller said other cellphone applications from such organizations as FEMA and the Red Cross can be valuable as well.

For an extra layer of security, the county also has Delco Alerts, a program that lets residents sign up and use their address to be informed of nearby weather hazards and other emergencies.

If residents still aren't getting the information they need, Miller suggests a weather radio. In the past, he said, people didn't use them because they "alerted of everything." Now, he said, they can be customized to give "just the alerts you want to hear about" and can be found for under $30.

For Powell leaders, all those other options mean sirens aren't a priority.

Interim police Chief Stephen Hrytzik said he was "not aware of anyone contacting the city directly regarding the sirens" and said "the different systems available," such as cellphone alerts, mean Powell doesn't see a safety concern.

"I wouldn't say it's a big public-safety risk," he said. "Obviously, we want people to be aware, and we're utilizing the resources we have at our disposal, so for everyone to be safe, we encourage them to look at what resources we have available to us and always be alert.

"It's really just being aware of your surroundings and knowing what to do in the event of an emergency."

If Powell did want to install a siren, it would not be cheap.

Miller said there is a variety of manufacturers and types of sirens, but a ballpark figure for each new installation would be about $25,000, plus the cost of maintenance and upkeep.

For Miller, a Delaware resident, sirens are far from the best type of warning to rely on anyway.

"There's a whole host of options now; it's really even different than 10 years ago now," he said. "I live in Delaware, and my family and I rely on Delco Alerts and wireless emergency alerts."

For more information about Delaware County Emergency Management, go to emaohio.org/delaware-county.

To sign up for Delco Alerts, go to delcoalerts.org.

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