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April 24, 2013

Council silences call of sirens

GREENVILLE — Local residents won’t be able to count on the City of Greenville’s emergency warning sirens in the event of a tornado or other disaster in the future, as a split  City Council voted Tuesday against paying to upgrade the system.

Council member Renee Francey was one of the votes against the amendment, noting the requested $75,000 would only go toward repairing what has been an unreliable system.

“I still feel that we are putting a Band-Aid on an open wound,” Francey said

The Council did approve a $14,500 budget amendment for repairs on the sirens at the Greenville SportsPark, which were completed earlier this year, although by a 4-3 vote the Council decided to move toward the CodeRED automatic telephone alert system.

As of Tuesday, all five units at local parks were operational, probably. Finance Director Cliff Copeland told the Council the number three siren, at Wright Park, has been having problems recently.

“They are all working, but number three is not reliable,” explained City Manager Steven Alexander. “It’s been frustrating.”

The sirens are tested on a weekly basis, with audible tests once per month and silent tests performed on the remaining three weeks through the police dispatch system.

Police Chief Daniel Busken said aside from the SportsPark siren, at least one of the four sirens has been inoperable in each of the weekly tests, which requires dedicating staff, time and expense to try and correct the problems.

“We’re not being successful, because we have unreliable equipment to work with,” Busken said.

The siren at the Greenville SportsPark recently had the new equipment installed in order to keep it operational.

Although the work has been described as an “upgrade”, the project actually replaced aging and obsolete components with updated equipment in order to keep the siren functional.

The Council had been asked whether it wanted to do the same for the remaining four units under the city’s control, or decide to go in another direction.

The outdoor sirens are designed to create an audible sound to alert people who are most likely outside of life threatening events.

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.

Five sirens were installed in 2002 at Graham Park, Middleton Park, Wright Park, the Greenville SportsPark, and Oak Creek Park and were placed into service to warn people that were outside at the park to take shelter.

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

Fire Chief Doug Caison told the Council he had investigated the systems used in Wylie, Weatherford, Waxahachie and Rockwall. Weatherford no longer uses a siren system, Caison said, while the other three cities reported similar difficulties with their sirens.

“You could interchange everybody’s problems,” Caison said. “This problem is not unique to Greenville.”

During a second public hearing on the issue, conducted during Tuesday’s meeting, one person spoke out in favor of maintaining the sirens and one person was opposed.

Council member Dan Perkins said he would prefer to keep the sirens up and running, as they were designed for people who may be involved in activities at the parks.

“I don’t think they have their cell phones,” Perkins said, adding the sirens can be an extra layer of security for older residents who may not even have a smart phone. “It is for the most vulnerable.”

But Francey and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Dailey said the sirens only cover about 1.5 square miles of the city when completely operational.

“I think the sirens just invite criticism,” Dailey said. “I think they are kind of outdated.”

Perkins, Dr. Joe Perks and Sandra Linson-Bell voted to approve the budget amendment, although Francey, Dailey, Velma Del Bosque-Hobdy and Mayor Steve Reid voted against.

Dailey recommended the city mount an aggressive ad campaign to encourage residents to sign up for the CodeRED system, which as of Tuesday had less than 1,900 residents enrolled.

Information regarding the CodeRED system is available on the city’s web site at www.ci.greenville.tx.us/CodeRED.

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