Archive for Saturday, April 24, 2004

Tornado-siren care high on priority list

Douglas County approves contract to maintain system

April 24, 2004

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With the threat of severe weather developing in the spring, Paula Phillips figures more of the general population would be interested in the dependability of tornado sirens in Douglas County.

The problem is that the county's director for emergency management has spent the past 16 years learning that people do not devote enough time to worrying about severe weather.

Douglas County looks to renew its maintenance contract for warning
sirens. This siren is west of the intersection of 27th and Arkansas
streets.

Douglas County looks to renew its maintenance contract for warning sirens. This siren is west of the intersection of 27th and Arkansas streets.

"The general public doesn't worry about the worst-case scenario because they don't think it will happen to them," Phillips said.

This does not stop Phillips and Douglas County from putting tornado siren maintenance high on their list of priorities. Douglas County spent $435,000 to install a safety system that includes 31 tornado sirens accompanied by a computer system four years ago.

Earlier this year, Douglas County commissioners voted to approve the annual maintenance contract for the system. The $11,000 contract between the county and Blue Valley Public Safety of Grain Valley, Mo., provides maintenance for the sirens.

Phillips said damage to the sirens was not uncommon due to their size.

"The sirens are 60 feet in the air," Phillips said. "So they are subject to lightning strikes during severe weather."

Blue Valley Public Safety is certified by the siren's manufacturer, Federal Signal. Because of the certification, Blue Valley Public Safety always has parts on hand for the sirens and allows for the warranty to continue on three of the sirens. Phillips said the contract with Blue Valley Public Safety had saved the county $17,600 during the past three years as compared to the costs of another company for maintenance.

Blue Valley Public Safety has been the county's maintenance contractor since 1998. The county is forced to contract out the maintenance because it does not own a bucket truck or have a licensed electrician or radio technician on staff, Phillips said.

Beyond the maintenance of the sirens, tests are run daily from the computer system in the office of emergency management for the sirens. The 31 sirens are divided up into five zones, and each one is tested daily for any damage. If a problem occurs with one of the sirens, a red light will blink on the map of the sirens on the computer screen.

The siren's sound is tested twice a month on the first and third Mondays of the month from March to July. Those tests are performed the first Monday of the month for the rest of the year.

The computer system tells Phillips if the siren is not sounding. This current system is much easier and effective, Phillips said.

"Prior to this system we had to have 31 people, one person near each siren, to listen and make sure the siren was going off," Phillips said. "We had one siren where when we called this one guy he could never hear it and another person told us they could always hear the siren."

When the county decides to sound the sirens to indicate severe weather, they do not have to wait for the National Weather Service's approval. Volunteers trained by the National Weather Service and Douglas County alert the Emergency Management Center when they spot severe weather. There are 18 locations around the county for the spotters to be placed where they are able to get a 180-degree viewpoint of their surroundings.

The sirens produce two different sounds with one being the tornado siren and the other being the civil defense warning siren. Phillips said the general public could not tell the difference between the two. The civil defense siren has never been sounded, but Phillips stresses that any siren's sound should be a warning for people to go inside and take cover.

"The sirens are not designed to be heard indoors," Phillips said. "They're purely outdoor warning sirens. That's what broadcast is for."

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