Early warning weather sirens up and running

by Sarah Fay Campbell

Coweta County's early warning weather siren system is now up and running.

The 16-siren system has been operational for almost two weeks, said Jay Jones, Coweta's emergency management director. Jones is still busy testing the system, but it is ready to broadcast tornado warnings, if needed.

The system consists of 13 sirens owned by Coweta County, which are placed at recreational facilities and other public gathering sites, two sirens owned by the city of Senoia, and one siren owned by the town of Haralson.

Newnan Utilities operates eight sirens for the city of Newnan. These older sirens are somewhat different from the new Coweta system, but Jones hopes to one day have them linked to the county's system. That will require some upgrades. "Everybody wants to do that. It's just a matter of the cost," Jones said.

Jones is still tweaking the official policy that will govern the operation of the sirens. He said he hopes to have it on the agenda for the Jan. 7 meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.

The sirens are set to automatically sound if there is a tornado warning in the area. Only the sirens in the area affected by the warning will go off. There is also the ability to manually operate the sirens from the Coweta County 911 Center, or the backup location at the Coweta County Justice Center.

The automatic siren activation is done using Weather Warn software. The software will also push updates to the county's Facebook page and Jones' county Twitter account, @cowetaema.

The manual operation could be done for things such as a missing child at a recreational facility.

There have been individual tests of sirens, and "silent" tests of the whole system, but there probably won't be a live, system-wide test until February.

Tests will typically be done the first Wednesday of each month at 11 a.m. That's a state-wide standard test day, and that's when Newnan Utilities tests its sirens. But the first Wednesday of January is New Year's Day, so Jones said they'll probably wait until February. Tests also won't be done if there is bad weather, to avoid anyone thinking the sirens are activating because of severe weather.

When a siren activates, it will sound for 30 seconds. There will then be a recorded message. The siren and message will then repeat.

If the siren is activated for testing, the message will indicate that it is only a test.

Sirens are located at the Hunter Complex, the "Central Park" complex off Ebenezer Church Road, the West Coweta Little League fields in Sargent, the Coweta County Fairgrounds, East Coweta High School, the Senoia Police Department, Senoia Water Works, Senoia City Park on Seavy Street, Haralson Town Hall, Grantville ball fields on Colley Street, Fire Station 6 in Madras, Fire Station 7 next to Northgate High School, the Clay-Wood Center on Heery Road, Andrew Bailey Park, the Welcome Community Center, and Whitlock Park.

The sirens can be heard from 1 to 1.25 miles away by those outside. Those farther away may be able to hear them, depending on topography, weather conditions, and other noise sources.

Jones recommends that all households have weather radios to help provide early warnings of severe weather.

It was originally planned to put a siren at Chattahoochee Bend State Park, but extensive state requirements led to Coweta abandoning that idea, at least in the first phase.

Late in the process, state officials asked the county to do environmental and archeological studies, and there were stipulations on location. Coweta had already ordered a solar-powered siren for the state park. It was decided those studies would slow the project down too much.

County officials contacted several landowners near the park to see if they would be willing to host the sirens, but it was decided that all of those locations would be too far away from the campgrounds at the park.

"We will revisit it whenever we get some of this stuff worked out," Jones said. "We do feel like it is important and it was in our first phase."

Additional sirens, including the concrete polls and installation, cost $32,000 to $35,000, Jones said.

The fire station in Madras was chosen as the second location after the state park plans didn't work out.

The solar-powered siren was installed in Grantville. There were some utility conflicts that could have made running power to the siren difficult, so it was decided to use the solar one, since it was already ordered.

The siren in Senoia is also solar powered. It will be moved to the new recreational fields on Hwy. 16 once they open to the public.

Though all the sirens have to be connected to a power source, the sirens themselves run off batteries. The power source recharges the batteries, Jones said.

It's hoped to eventually expand the siren system, in phases. The current software system can handle up to 100 sirens. Jones said he can't imagine there ever being that many.

Coweta County officials have been working for more than two years to get the sirens. Funding for the sirens was included in the 2012 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and Jones also applied for a Homeland Security grant, which allowed the purchase of even more sirens.

"It's good to see a project come to fruition and be operational and provide some type of notification for people," Jones said. "This is for public safety and we're all proud of the system."

There were a lot of entities involved, including various county departments, the participating municipalities, and even Coweta Fayette EMC and Georgia Power.

Anyone wishing more information may contact Jones at 770-254-2650 or jjones@coweta.ga.us.

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