STANTON — While tornado season is winding down for 2013, Montcalm County Central Dispatch has completed an upgrade to the outdoor emergency alert sirens throughout Montcalm County.
The communities of Amble, Carson City, Coral, Crystal, Edmore, Greenville, Howard City, Lakeview, McBride, Sheridan, Six Lakes, Stanton, Trufant and Vestaburg all have working outdoor emergency sirens used to alert the local population of an imminent tornado threat in their area and the need to take immediate cover. Most of the sirens are located at the local area’s fire station, and general care and maintenance has remained with the area fire departments. Through the use of Homeland Security grant funds, as well as some funding from Central Dispatch, the outdoor emergency siren system added the capability to remotely activate the sirens, either individually or all at once to alert the entire county as quickly as possible.
The recent radio narrow-banding directive from the Federal Communications Commission made the upgrade necessary, possible and affordable. Previously, it was routine to use firefighters to respond to their fire station to manually activate the siren positioned there. Through coordination with the fire chiefs, the decision was made to create a remote activation capability at Central Dispatch while maintaining the manual activation capability at the individual fire stations, thereby eliminating the need to put a firefighter at risk to activate the siren when needed.
During the upgrade process, a variety of other issues were identified and corrected to ensure a longer operational life of the county’s emergency siren system. The sirens are of various models with different performance standards, but generally, they can be heard approximately one mile from the siren location (mostly on the fire station, except Greenville, which has purchased seven sirens and positioned them throughout the city). Numerous variables, such as you being in your house with windows shut, air conditioners running, television on, or many other noises can mask the siren noise. While the sirens are effective warning tools for people outside, the best protection for people indoors is to purchase a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration radio for severe weather alerts, and if bad weather is expected, closely monitor local television stations for frequent updates and warnings. For the more tech-savvy people, there are multiple apps available that will provide up-to-date weather alerts on your cell phone.
While Central Dispatch is pleased with the progress made to this point, we are continuing to explore a variety of additional enhancements that can be made. The additional improvements might include placing more sirens in areas that currently have one, and adding sirens in areas where there are none currently.
To ensure these new devices work as intended, we will conduct a siren test the first Friday of every month at 11 a.m. The test will only last 30 seconds, and will be activated and cancelled from Central Dispatch. The initial test will be Friday, Oct. 4. If bad weather is present, the test will be canceled so as not to falsely alert County residents. Additionally, individual communities may establish their own testing schedule for their residents.
Keeping our communities safe during these weather emergencies is important and every reasonable step will be taken to maintain or enhance these protections.