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April 10, 2013

No decisions yet on sirens

GREENVILLE — The Greenville City Council intends to wait a while before making a final decision as to the fate of the city’s emergency warning sirens.

The siren at the Greenville SportsPark recently had new equipment installed, at a cost of $14,500, just to keep it operating.

The Council was being asked Tuesday whether it wanted to do the same for the remaining four units under the city’s control, at a cost of $75,000, or decide to go in another direction.

“We’re kind of seeing ourselves in a little bit of a crossroads here,” said City Manager Steve Alexander, who noted the company who repaired the SportsPark siren indicated a decision would have to be made soon. “They are advising us the existing system is at the end of its useful life.”

Alexander said with the spring severe thunderstorm season getting started, the city staff needed to know if the Council wanted to continue with the sirens, “or look at abandoning the system and not having the system.”

Among the options which the city could consider would be going to warning systems such as the CodeRED automated telephone messaging service, social media, and Smartphone weather applications.

Opinions offered from local residents during a public hearing were split, with half wanting to keep the sirens and half believing they had outlived their usefulness.

“I think upgrading the system is a better way to go,” said David Dreiling, noting the sirens are designed to warn individuals at local parks. “They are not paying attention to their cell phones or looking at Facebook.”

Duane May said the people should take responsibility for keeping up to date on weather conditions.

“I think we can take that money and spend it elsewhere, especially with the budget conditions we have now,” May said.

Alexander also wondered if it was time to move in another direction.

“We’re not sure the system provides a whole  lot of value,” Alexander said. “We not sure it provides the value for the money.”

Problems have been noted with the sirens for the past year, following a tornado outbreak across North Texas, which included three twisters in Hunt County. Some local residents said they could not hear the sirens, while some of the units were later found to be inoperable.

Five sirens were installed in 2002 at Graham Park, Middleton Park, Wright Park, the Greenville SportsPark, and Oak Creek Park.

Two additional sirens at the Greenville L-3 plant are part of the overall system, but are owned and maintained by the defense contractor.

Council member Renee Francey said the sirens only are able to alert a fraction of the city, although residents throughout Greenville depend on them.

“They are giving you a false sense of security,” Francey said.

Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Dailey said the system is the equivalent of a security blanket.

“It is kind of comforting to have it there,” Dailey said, while also indicating the city may have outgrown its need for the sirens. “As they go down, don’t repair them, let them be phased out.”

There was a call for additional public advertising, encouraging residents to sign up for CodeRED or similar systems, while others noted that people who live outside Greenville who are visiting the city would not receive those warnings.

“My fear is outside people, doing outside activities ... you might not have your cell phone with you,” said Council member Dan Perkins. “But if they are not outside in a park, there is no siren system for them.”

As only four Council members were in attendance Tuesday, the item was tabled until the April 23 Council meeting, at which time a second public hearing will be scheduled on the issue.

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