City needs to move ahead on weather sirens

Published 7:12 pm Wednesday, December 12, 2012

As the days tick away toward 2013, it appears Brookhaven will mark another year without sirens to alert citizens of threatening weather conditions.

     The fact that city leaders continue to discuss and debate this important issue should come as no surprise. Weather sirens have been an off-and-on boardroom topic since the mid-1980s.

     The city has been without a siren for years after one mounted at the old Central Fire Station could no longer be kept in operating condition. Even before it bellowed its last breath, that siren’s range was limited and did not cover the entire city.

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     Since June, aldermen have had available grant funds potentially totaling more than $100,000 that would cover 95 percent of the costs for installing five new sirens across the city. The city would be responsible for the remaining 5 percent of the cost.

     In early summer, bids for the new sirens were sought. However, the bids were rejected because companies offered electronic sirens instead of the more traditional mechanical sirens that were requested in bid specifications.

     Electronic sirens broadcast a recorded tone that simulates the sound generated by mechanical sirens. City leaders have now asked Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey to investigate the use of electronic sirens.

     While the latest setback appears to have been beyond city officials’ control, we hope the issue of differing siren options can be addressed quickly.

     In earlier efforts on the weather alert front, aldermen also have looked at various other forms of warning systems, such as text messaging. Cellular telephone services have taken the lead in that effort.

     To be sure, sirens are not the be-all and end-all of severe weather protection. Detractors complain of limited range and also point to the problem for those with impaired hearing. But weather sirens provide a valuable alert system that can give most citizens the extra time to take cover when a tornado or other severe storm is approaching.

     Weather warning systems have tended not to rank very high on city officials’ to-do lists over the years, but the opportunity to move forward needs to be grasped now.

     Lincoln County supervisors are in much the same boat as the city, but also have a far larger coverage area to consider when looking for funding.

     Funding is now not a problem for the city, as the grant will pay for most of whatever the board decides. The board simply needs to take the necessary steps and act as quickly as possible – before yet another year goes by without a weather alert system.