Alarm given about city sirens

Monday, June 30, 2008

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A recent tornado warning demonstrated that Cherokee's aging sirens are inadequate and three need to be replaced, according to Aimee Barritt, Cherokee County emergency management coordinator, in comments to the Cherokee City Council on June 24th.

There are four sirens, one on Spruce Street, one at the fire station, one at the Cherokee Mental Health Institute, and one at Tyson's Foods. The ones at the fire station and at Tyson's failed to operate on June 11, the day when a storm front that spawned numerous tornadoes swept through west central and northwest Iowa.

No tornado touched down in Cherokee County but a warning was issued and the alarm sirens were activated. Barritt noted that there was someone at the fire station who was able to manually sound the alarm at the fire station. The alarm at Tyson's never sounded.

None of the sirens have battery back-up and only one of the four, the newest one at Spruce Street, is capable of being upgraded to operate on batteries. Although it was not a factor in the June 11 failure of two sirens, a power outage during severe weather could prevent sirens from operating.

Besides the unreliability of the current sirens, there is inadequate coverage for the warning system, according to Barritt.

"The death toll in Iowa from tornadoes has been horrendous this year and we still have a lot of the tornado season left," Barritt said.

About 20 deaths so far this year include four Boy Scouts who died at a camp in Monona County on the same day that the sirens sounded in Cherokee and a May 25 tornado that claimed a dozen lives in Parkersburg and New Haven in eastern Iowa.

Parkersburg was totally devastated by the EF 5 tornado, the most severe classification of tornadoes. Despite the high death toll, Barritt said there could have been many more deaths but the sirens sounded in Parkersburg 20 minutes before the tornado hit. The sirens are fairly new in Parkersburg.

Barritt introduced Butch Hoffman to the council. He is the outdoor warning siren sales representative for Danko Emergency Equipment in Snyder, Neb.

Hoffman distributed maps to council members showing the coverage area of the sirens sound showing the questionably adequate 70-decibel level and the preferable 80-decibel level. Even using the questionable 70-decibel coverage, there are areas of Cherokee not reached by the sound of the sirens, according to Hoffman.

He presented another map that showed the coverage area that would result from replacement and relocation of three of the sirens, leaving the Spruce Street siren in place. Most of the city would then be within the preferable 80-decibel coverage.

Each of the three sirens would cost between $15,000 and $16,000, according to Hoffman. This includes installation and all equipment costs, everything except the cost of bringing electricity to the new locations.

Hoffman said he will present more precise costs at a later meeting. He said that USDA grants often pay as much as 75 percent of the costs for sirens.

Pam Pierce, mayor, noted that there are other grant sources that can be applied for.

There will likely need to be some private fund raising effort since there are no discretionary funds in the budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

"This is a public safety issue that I believe needed to be brought to your attention," Barritt said,

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