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Kirk White

Last modified: Friday, May 4, 2007

IU and city to test emergency warning system Friday

Siren's loudspeaker command feature to be activated for first time

May 3, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This month's test of outdoor emergency warning sirens at noon Friday will include an entirely new sound -- the human voice.

For the first time, sirens on the Indiana University campus and downtown Bloomington will be tested to see how well they carry vocal commands and information to people outdoors.

The test is being done at the request of Michael A. McRobbie, president-elect of Indiana University and provost of the Bloomington campus.

"The recent tragedy at Virginia Tech pointed out a clear need for the ability to communicate instantly with people on our campus in emergency situations," McRobbie said. "This is one of several additional emergency communications methods that we are exploring."

The siren loudspeakers were designed to carry voice messages as well as traditional siren wails for weather alerts, but that ability has never before been tested.

The test will begin promptly at 12 noon with all 28 sirens in Monroe County activated. At first there will be a steady wail, which is the signal for a tornado sighting. Then there will be a series of fast wails, which is the signal for unusual emergencies requiring people to move indoors and seek more information from cable TV and local radio stations. More information about IU's outdoor warning system can be found by logging into

After these tests are completed, two sirens on the IU campus and one on the Justice Building downtown will be used to send a recorded test message and then a live message from a microphone keyed at the IU Police Department dispatcher's desk.

IU staff will be deployed at various locations around the campus to gauge the effectiveness of the voice messages.

"We hope we are never faced with an incident of violence similar to what occurred at Virgina Tech," said Kirk White, IU's director of community relations. "But we must be prepared for the possibility, no matter how remote. Also, there are many other potential hazards that might require instantaneous communications with everyone on campus, including tornadoes, fires, chemical spills and civil disturbances. So everything we do along these lines will help make IU a safer place."

In addition to utilizing warning sirens for voice messages, IU is looking at available technology for sending instant text messages to faculty, staff and students and possible radio or intercom links with all buildings on the Bloomington campus.