The city’s storm warning system to alert residents of approaching danger is getting a financial upgrade in an effort to prevent any more failures to communicate.
“We have some weaknesses in the system, I believe,” said E-911 director Chuck Haston during a city Safety Committee meeting.
On July 11, the 911 center activated the system at 3:20 p.m. during a thunderstorm warning. The system’s transmission, which is a radio signal, was interrupted and the sirens failed to sound. The system is designed to be heard outdoors only and dispatchers had no way of knowing the sirens were not sounding.
Haston continued, “First of all, 911 and the city are partners in this siren endeavor. We are the activation point, but we’ve also had some concerns since the siren system was installed. The way the siren system is activated and the pathway the activation signal goes, there are a lot of weaknesses there.”
In 2005, the city installed six storm warning sirens in order to alert residents about severe thunderstorms and tornados and for other serious instances where there is a possibility for loss of life or property. As a cost-saving measure, the city did not obtain a dedicated radio frequency and instead decided to utilize the same one as the city’s Fire Department.
Haston says sharing the frequency caused the problem.
“What happened in this case is the tone was sent properly and at the appropriate time, but because of some administrative radio traffic that popped up on the frequency, the tone was interrupted. That individual at the Fire Department didn’t know the tones were coming, and we didn’t know the radio traffic was coming. There was no active event going on. We knew the tone was sent, but we have no way of knowing if the sirens have activated or not. Sometimes, if we step outside, we can hear it but sometimes we can’t.”
Haston suggested the city perform a complete upgrade on the system and: 1) place the system’s radio signal on its own frequency so it cannot be interrupted again. 2) establish a secondary location to activate the system just in case a situation arises at the facility and dispatchers cannot, for whatever reason, trigger the sirens. 3) install an encoder system that will provide feedback from the sirens to let the facility know if there are any problems in the system, such as the situation that arose on July 11 when the tone was sent but the sirens didn’t sound.
A quote from Communications Evolutions and presented to the committee by business owner Richard Myers placed the cost of a complete upgrade at $11,128. However, an encoder system and its software would be less than $5,000.
Safety Committee members Mike Neal, Everett Brock and Ryle Chastain unanimously voted to purchase the encoder and software.
Mayor Jimmy Haley questioned of Myers if the city has enough sirens.
“Do we need more sirens? I’ve received complaints that the sirens can’t be heard in parts of the city,” said Haley.
Myers replied, “If that’s a concern, we can ask the feds to do a survey. It will be at no cost to the city.”
Members also voted to request a free survey to determine if the city’s six sirens are adequate or if more are needed.
Because the amount is estimated to be under $5,000 for the upgrade, full board approval is not needed.