For many folks, the sound of a siren signals bad news. But some have trouble distinguishing exactly what bad news various siren songs herald.

Is it a police car? An ambulance? A fire engine? A storm warning?

This last sort of siren sound is largely distinguishable from the others in that it is louder and longer. But knowing that it’s a storm siren is just the beginning of getting the information needed to take the appropriate action.

That’s where media comes in. You can turn on the radio or TV or check online after you hear a siren for details about what, exactly, the severe weather is.

Madison County, Ind., is adding another useful tool — text alerts to your cellphone — to help local residents stay notified and safe as severe weather approaches.

To sign up for the service, visit www.madisoncounty.in.gov/EMA/mcema/Mass_Notification.html. The service is free, but standard data and text messaging rates may apply.

The cost to taxpayers is considerable but not too steep. Officials estimate it will cost $25,000 annually. That would jump to about $133,000 if every resident of the county signed up for the service.

This is a good use of technology to reach people with details instantaneously. It’s also cheaper than maintaining and sounding storm sirens. But storm sirens will continue to be needed to sound an alert that everyone can hear, since not everyone will sign up for the text service.

Another text alert option The Herald Bulletin offers free severe weather warning text alerts for Madison and contiguous counties. It also offers breaking news, school and sports scores alerts. To sign up, visit heraldbulletin.com and look for the "Sign up for text alerts" box on the right side of the home page.

©2014 The Herald Bulletin (Anderson, Ind.)