In one of the deadliest tornado touchdowns in state history, an early-morning twister struck Indiana in November 2005, killing 25 people. Many of the victims were sleeping as tornado sirens allegedly blared. This storm prompted WTHR in Indianapolis to launch an in-depth investigation into tornado warning systems.
WTHR’s investigation team — chief investigative reporter Bob Segall, investigative reporter Gerry Lanosga, photojournalist Bill Ditton and executive producer of special projects and investigations Holly Stephen — tracked down every tornado siren in the region, charted their location, then analyzed six years of activation response data.
The findings were startling: sirens failed to activate thousands of times, many were broken beyond repair, and nearly 200,000 people were in dead zones, vast swaths of land out of range of any warning sirens.
Within six months of this investigation, cities and towns in the Indianapolis metropolitan area approved $7.5 million dollars to purchase and install new sirens and to upgrade severe weather warning systems.
Judges said “Cause of Alarm” showed “remarkable initiative. The story uncovered a lackadaisical approach of government officials and fostered change — not only in government, but most importantly, in the community. WTHR had to overcome numerous obstacles in obtaining this story, even securing a partnership with a company supplying weather radios.”
The investigation team said, “Telling a story about tornado sirens and their failure rates is not considered ‘sexy’ in terms of television ratings. But by focusing on the people affected by the sirens and by tackling an issue that personally impacted hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers during the height of Indiana’s severe weather season, ‘Cause for Alarm’ revealed a major problem, triggered significant results and drove viewers to WTHR’s newscasts and Web site — all at the same time.”