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Northern Arkansas county to phase out warning sirens

June 18, 2018

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. (AP) — Many folks around Mountain Home and Baxter County are used to hearing the emergency warning sirens sounding at noon. However, as time goes by, fewer and fewer county residents will hear them.

That’s because the county is phasing out the sirens. As sirens quit working, they are not repaired. Rather, they are gutted for parts to be used for other sirens, the Baxter Bulletin reported .

Jim Sierzchula, Director of the Baxter County Office of Emergency Management said the sirens are dated technology.

“The National Weather Service lets everyone know two to three days in advance if we’re going to have severe weather,” Sierzchula said. “People get warnings from their cellphones, they watch TV, there’s plenty of ways to get warnings.”

Something else Sierzchula noted, the sirens are intended to be an outdoor warning, not an indoor warning system.

“If you’re asleep, depending on where you live, you will not hear the sirens,” said Sierzchula. “At my house, even if I’m awake, I can’t hear the siren.”

The sirens are difficult to get parts for, the early versions are prone to breakdown, woodpeckers chew up the poles and newer replacements are expensive, are just some of the problems with the sirens, Sierzchula said.

Several years ago, the county gave ownership of sirens inside incorporated areas to the relevant cities. Mountain Home inherited nine warning sirens.

City officials view the sirens differently. They believe the sirens add a layer of protection for citizens.

“We believe they’re worth the expense,” said Mayor Joe Dillard. “They could end up saving lives, you never know.”

Ken Williams, the city’s Fire Chief, spoke about the sirens during a recent meeting of the city’s department heads.

“The sirens are old, they’ve been around a long time and they’re starting to need a lot of work,” Williams said. “They are expensive to buy parts for and replacing them means about $20,000 each.”

That price tag is something Mayor Dillard feels is important to pay, given the potential for the sirens to save lives.

“You know, we have that sales tax increase for public safety,” the mayor said. “The sirens are worth repairing or replacing if they save just one life.”

Gassville has two warning sirens. One the city purchased, the other was inherited from the county. Mayor Jeff Braim said the city will continue to pay for the maintenance of the sirens and may one day purchase a third siren.

Why do the sirens go off at noon every day?

There’s a reason the emergency sirens sound every day at noon. It has nothing to do with “testing” the emergency warning system.

Rather, sounding the sirens is a maintenance issue. The sirens need to be “exercised” as part of upkeep on the batteries that power the sirens.

When the sirens need to be sounded, a radio signal is sent from the 911 operations center. That signal is captured by a receiver on each siren, triggering the appropriate sound.

Should power go out and the sirens need to be activated, batteries supply the power. Those batteries need to be drained occasionally to extend their lifespan. Sierzchula said prior to the county sounding the sirens once a day, the average battery lasted about a year.

Since the county began “exercising” the sirens on a daily basis, their lifespan has increased to two or three years each.

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Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, http://www.baxterbulletin.com

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