Mary Beth Sallee
Reporter, Hart County News-Herald
It’s been over two months since tornadoes swept through south-central Kentucky, including Hart County.
Both Horse Cave and Munfordville received damage, but the most severe tornadic activity occurred in Hardyville where some families lost everything.
Although those storms have since passed, one thing hasn’t: concern about the county’s outdoor warning sirens.
As stated in a previous story in the December 23, 2021 issue of the Hart County News-Herald, once Kentucky State Police dispatch receives a confirmation from the National Weather Service (NWS) of a tornado warning, the county Outdoor Warning Sirens (COWS) are activated on KSP’s end, alerting the area of severe weather.
Unfortunately, in those early morning hours of December 11, 2021, no siren could be heard anywhere in the county. As of February 17, no answer has been given as to why those sirens either malfunctioned or were not activated.
Since the December tornado, additional severe weather has hit the area. On January 1, 2022, Hart County once again found itself under a tornado warning.
This time, however, sirens throughout the county were activated and did sound – that is, except for Hardyville. The town’s siren, which is actually a civil defense siren, has not worked in a very long time. This raised concerns among many in the community, including Danielle Sexton Ponder.
Ponder and her husband had two large garages that were completely destroyed in the December 11 tornado. Their home sustained moderate damage.
What Ponder did not realize until a few weeks later is that the tornado siren in Hardyville had not been repaired or replaced, and therefore was not in working order. Although it is known that COWS are meant for outdoor use only and are not to be used as a primary source of warning during tornadic activity, Ponder stated that a siren is still needed in the community.
“This news caused a pit in my stomach to think so many neighbors may not have the opportunity to seek shelter due to the lack of a siren in Hardyville,” Ponder said. “I understand that night that people were in their homes, but growing up just a 1/2 mile from the Hardyville Fire Department I have memories of waking to the sound of the siren as Mom ushered me into the closet. The fact the community didn’t know the siren was broken is also concerning. Our community should have known. It’s irresponsible that we weren’t made aware.”
Local Amish families were also unaware that the siren was no longer in working condition.
Ricky Atwell, Chief of the Hardyville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD), spoke with an Amish family who resides in Hardyville. On December 11, the family listened for the siren to alert them to take shelter, but no siren sounded.
“There are people that do rely on it (the outdoor siren),” Atwell said. “This past weekend, I went and talked to some of the local Amish families. When the tornado hit back in December, the guy said he got up, he heard the wind and everything. He went to listen for the siren but didn’t hear it, so he thought that it (the weather) wasn’t that bad. He didn’t really think much of it. Then all of a sudden, their house started coming apart.”
Dale Avery, a longtime member of HVFD, stated that people of the Hardyville community have expressed their concerns to him as well. Avery addressed these concerns in a Letter to the Editor that he submitted to the Hart County News-Herald which was printed in the December 23, 2021 edition of the newspaper.
“…Many in the community claim that they count on those sirens, being able to hear them inside their homes, in connection with a weather radio, TV, radio, scanner, and social media if they have those available,” Avery wrote. “But what happens if the TV/weather/radio channels have to stop transmission like WBKO and a few others had to do to seek shelter? What if the power goes out before you’re warned otherwise? Some also claim that they can hear them (sirens) and wakes them up over a cell phone alert or text.”
“These sirens used to be maintained and tested, and for the most part all of them functioned as they should,” Avery continued. “As a fail safe, a few emergency officials, including the county Emergency Manager, are able to also send them off manually/remotely. No sirens were sounded that night/morning, potentially endangering the safety and lives of all the tax paying citizens of Hart County.”
According to Avery, a new outdoor warning sirens costs approximately $15,000 to $25,000 and around $5,000 to maintain yearly.
The Hart County News-Herald learned of the City of Horse Cave’s newer outdoor weather siren and contacted Horse Cave Mayor Randall Curry to find out information about cost and installation.
Mayor Curry stated that the city’s old siren was installed in the 1930s as a civil defense siren. When replacement parts could no longer be found for it, the City of Horse Cave worked to ensure that its citizens would be kept safe by purchasing a new siren.
“The City of Horse Cave applied for a grant though the office of Kentucky Homeland Security in the amount of $13,800, the purchase price for the siren,” Curry said. “The City was responsible for installing, putting in service. The grant was awarded in 2016, and we received the siren in May 2017 from the supplier. The siren was installed by Horse Cave Public Works, and a certified electrician wired it and put it in service.”
Mayor Curry also commented on the fact that sirens in the county did not sound on December 11.
“The night we had the tornado, it (siren) didn’t go off. I don’t know what happened,” Curry said. “…Nobody ever gave me a good answer why this didn’t go off that day. Because the very next time we had an incident (New Year’s Day), it went off.”
Mayor Curry added that as an elected official, he tries to be proactive when it comes to the safety of the community.
“This is what you have to do,” Curry said. “They (sirens) are pretty pricey…But really, we can’t put a price on a human life…In Horse Cave, we are fiscally responsible at spending money, but when something needs to be done for the people of Horse Cave, guess what? I’m gonna do it.”
With grants possibly available to purchase a new siren for Hardyville and with many taxpayers questioning what money is available to use towards severe weather needs, the question remains: What are the plans of Emergency Management and county officials in regards to the siren in Hardyville and other sirens that may not be working within the county?
Hart County Emergency Management Director Tony Keithley was contacted and asked if updates could be provided in regards to the siren in Hardyville and the county’s overall plans to address severe weather concerns.
“I’m not supposed to discuss (this),” Keithley said. “I can just tell you that the Judge (Joe Choate) is the one that’s handling that…We’re in the process of working on it.”
Hart County Judge/Executive Joe Choate was contacted via email. In addition to other questions, Choate was what other sirens in the county were not working, if he felt like the siren in Hardyville or other areas should be replaced, what the county’s budget is towards warning sirens, and what the county’s plans are to address sirens not working.
“We have been working on answers to these questions and more,” Choate replied via email. “We will be addressing most of them at the next Fiscal Court meeting.”
For Ponder and others, the sirens aren’t just beneficial. They are potentially life saving.
“There are situations where my husband is mowing the lawn, and I couldn’t warn him via his phone. My grandma loves sitting on her back porch,” Ponder said. “The list goes on of outdoor situations where this (a siren) is necessary. Also, as I stated, we relied on the sirens growing up as a secondary means to know when to seek shelter. What happens if the electric goes down?”
Atwell stated that if the siren in Hardyville cannot be fixed, it would be nice to have it replaced for the safety of everyone.
“Maybe it’s not the primary warning, but it’s a supplemental device,” Atwell said. “It is a warning device that can help to save someone’s life. Therefore, it needs to be in working condition. People in the community do rely on the outdoor warning siren for notification of potential severe weather. It’s an additional device that’s available to advise people to take shelter. It needs to be in working condition.”
The next Hart County Fiscal Court meeting will be held on Thursday, March 3 at 9 a.m. CST on the 2nd floor of the Old Courthouse. This meeting is open to the public. Anyone who has questions regarding outdoor warning sirens or other severe weather concerns is encouraged to attend this meeting.
The Hart County News-Herald will continue to provide updates as they are received regarding this situation.