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Archive for Sunday, March 16, 2003

Tornado sirens’ backup batteries may be too costly for town

March 16, 2003

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— With tornado season arriving, residents of this central Kansas town remain vulnerable to the possibility that a power failure could prevent an early warning of dangerous storms.

Nickerson officials have installed three new sirens since power loss caused the failure of the community's two sirens during a storm months ago.

But the new sirens, which will cost the city between $15,000 and $20,000 to install, won't have the battery backup -- estimated at an additional $30,000 -- necessary to guarantee their operation in a power failure, said David Vagts, Nickerson city superintendent.

He said his fire chief, Kenny Burgess, has priced battery packs for the sirens, but doesn't know if the price of the battery packs is cost-prohibitive.

"They're extremely expensive," Vagts said. "So I don't know where the point is to spend that kind of money to set up a battery system."

That may not satisfy some residents, who were critical of the sirens' failure last year, Mayor Jeanne Fields said.

"I don't know," she said. "The things are pretty expensive to install by themselves."

City officials have a compromise in mind: calling a community meeting later this spring to explain that the sirens are not primary warning devices.

Vagts said the used sirens became available earlier this month.

"I'm gradually working my way through to get things together," he said. "How much we're going to spend, where we're going to put them up. I'd like to see them up by mid-May. I know we're already in tornado season, but by the time we get stuff put together and get it all approved by the council, it takes time."

Bill Guy, who directs Reno County's Office of Emergency Management, said he would prefer battery backups in outlying county towns.

But the new sirens are an improvement, he said.

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