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April 7, 2013

City Council to consider future of warning sirens

Budget amendment needed in order to keep units operating

GREENVILLE — The time has come for the Greenville City Council to decide what to do about the city’s emergency warning sirens.

One of the five units which is under the city of Greenville’s control was recently updated with new equipment, at a cost of $14,500, in order to keep it functional. Now the council will have to choose whether to do the same for the remaining four units, at a cost of $75,000, or decide to go in another direction.

A public hearing is scheduled prior to a vote on the issue during Tuesday’s regular session, starting at 6 p.m. in the Municipal Building, 2821 Washington Street. A work session is also set for 5 p.m. Tuesday.

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.

In a memo to the council, Finance Director Cliff Copeland noted the 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.

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

“Currently, the existing controls on the equipment are nearing the end of their useful life and replacement parts are becoming obsolete,” Copeland said. “The SportsPark siren recently had to be upgraded to the next generation of controls because repair parts were no longer available to fix the damaged unit.”

Copeland said the sirens are tested weekly, with one or more units requiring maintenance each time they are tested.

“Due to the high frequency of required maintenance on these remaining units, a plan is needed to resolve these ongoing issues,” he explained.

Copeland noted there are other forms of warning systems which can be utilized by the city; such as the CodeRED automated telephone messaging service, social media, and Smartphone weather applications.

“These are just a few examples,” Copeland said.

Expanding the system could cost even more.

In January, Fire Chief Doug Caison told the Council completely replacing all of the current sirens with brand new units would cost an estimated $157,000. Expanding the system citywide, which Caison said would mean a dozen sirens, would cost a minimum of $400,000, but that would not mean residents could hear them from inside their homes, as the outdoor sirens are designed to create an audible sound to alert people who are most likely outside of life threatening events.

Copeland said the city’s staff is recommending the Council consider all avenues of weather warning notifications.

If it decides to remain with the current system, the Council would have to pass a budget amendment Tuesday.

“If the Council decides to go with an alternative warning system, a budget amendment will only be needed for $14,500 for the SportsPark siren upgrade which has been completed,” Copeland said.

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