Crews continue installing storm sirens in Poplar Bluff

Friday, August 31, 2012

POPLAR BLUFF, Mo. -- The residents of Poplar Bluff will soon be better alerted to impending severe weather as crews continue installing seven new early warning sirens around town.

"The safety of our citizens is paramount to not only the fire chief [Ralph Stucker] and I, but also the city manager and council," explained Poplar Bluff deputy police chief Jeff Rolland.

Stucker agreed.

It was about a year ago when city officials realized the "situation we were in" with the outdated, 1950-era storm sirens and approached city manager Doug Bagby, the city council and county commission about upgrading the system, Stucker said.

"The council was real concerned when they found out the situation we were in" and made sure "we were going forward with this process," Stucker said.

On Monday, crews with Second Sight Systems, based on Hillsboro, Mo., and an authorized distributor of the ATI Systems, began the installation process with assistance from Municipal Utilities crews.

New poles, conservatively 20 to 30 feet higher than their predecessors, are being set to hold the sirens, said Rolland, who described the extra height as providing "better coverage."

Officials, Stucker said, also changed the location of four of the sirens. "Every place we moved one, it was just to get better coverage," he said.

"We moved the one behind Station No. 3 [on Highway 53] to 11th and 53; we put it up on a hill," Stucker said. "The one in the [Poplar Bluff] Industrial Park was at the dead end of Merva Road.

"It was moved to Central and Rowe Parkway" and is more "centrally located" in the Industrial Park.

The siren at Westwood Boulevard and Pine Street was relocated to the intersection of Westwood and Kanell boulevards, while the one at Channon and Baugh Lane was moved to a location behind Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center.

At Channon and Baugh, it was "down in a small valley," but now is located on a hillside, Rolland said.

Sirens remaining in their existing locations are located in Linc Park and the Poplar Bluff City Cemetery, as well as at the intersection of Moran and Cedar streets.

In addition to the seven stationary sirens, the city also purchased a portable storm siren system.

"It has two main functions," according to Rolland. "In the event one of the stationary warning sirens becomes disabled or destroyed, we can immediately take this portable one out, set it up and it can act as a stationary site, keeping residents appropriately covered by an early warning system."

The capability of broadcasting messages, Stucker said, is the system's second function and allows for use at an event or in the event of an evacuation.

Since technology from the late '50s is being replaced by "modern-day technology," this new system has the "ability to not only use the tone warnings, but voice warnings and instructions," Rolland said.

If needed, he said, the tone warnings may be followed by voice instructions.

A "perfect example," Rolland said, is the July 4th parade two years ago when a severe thunderstorm came through the area and the parade was cancelled.

"We had to use word of mouth to get the word out," Rolland said. "We can utilize the mobile system, set it up at the assembly point not only to let participants know about threats of severe weather, but we can utilize it for the cancellation of the parade."

Messages, Stucker said, also can be broadcast from the stationary sites.

"We can broadcast specifically to an area and give specific voice instructions on what to do," said Rolland, who described last year's flooding as another "good example."

The portable system could have been used to give evacuation notices to everyone south of Black River and east of Ditch Road, Rolland said.

"We can tell them the evacuation center will be at this location," Stucker said.

The stationary systems, Stucker said, are battery operated with solar panels being used to keep the batteries charged.

"If the power goes out, they still function," Rolland said.

With the old system, "if the power went out, they were down," Stucker said.

At a total cost of about $210,000, the system has two control panels, with one located at the police department and the other at Butler County Sheriff's Department, Stucker said.

In addition to installing the systems and their subsequent testing, dispatchers at both departments also will be trained on the new equipment, said Stucker, who expects the installation to be done by the "middle of next week."

Once installed, the system will provide a "redundancy in activation points, greater coverage and greater capability in testing to ensure the system is up and operational," Rolland said.

There are multiple ways the system can be tested, Stucker said.

It also will "troubleshoot" itself and alert officials if a battery is low or a horn is not working, allowing for "immediate" repair, Rolland said.

Describing Second Sight as "our neighbor," Rolland said, it isn't far for its crews to come to make repairs.

Given the age of the current system, it was becoming difficult to find components to "match up" when repairs were needed, Stucker said.

"There are differences between the new and old systems in the way they look, the way they function and they way they sound," Rolland said. "? We will be notifying the public of the initial testing.

"It is a different sound, so it's something we need to work with the citizens to make them aware of what they are listening for."

With the possibility of stormy weather starting tonight, Rolland and Stucker said, the citizens will not be without a warning system.

"The old system is still operating," Rolland said.

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