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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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City to install more sirens

Monday, March 10, 2014

Martinsville aims to install a network of nine tornado warning sirens across the city this year.

The city already has two such sirens — one each at the fire stations on West Church Street and Starling Avenue. They are sounded to alert residents to tornado warnings affecting the Martinsville area, and they will be activated during the statewide tornado drill at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Those sirens cannot be heard citywide, hence the need for more, said city Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Phillips.

According to officials, sirens are useful in warning people who are outdoors, asleep or otherwise may not hear emergency messages distributed via radio, television, cell phones and the Internet.

Over the years, some localities have used sirens to warn of various types of emergencies, such as chemical spills or, during the Cold War, a potential nuclear attack. However, Martinsville’s sirens will be used only for tornado warnings, Phillips said.

“It will be confusing for people if we use them for anything else,” he said.

The new sirens are to be installed atop utility poles 45 feet high at or near the following locations:

• Roundabout Road and Fourth Street.

• Ainsley Street, at the playground across from the Clearview Early Childhood Center.

• Fairy Street, near Martinsville High School’s back parking lot and tennis courts.

• Rives Road and Lawson Street.

• Madison and Randolph streets, near Patrick Henry Mall.

• Spruce and Brookdale streets.

• Mulberry Road and Corn Tassel Trail.

• The fire station on Starling Avenue. The new siren will replace the current one, which Phillips said has sound distribution problems. He said the city will keep the old siren and maybe use it again if the system ever is expanded.

Outdoor warning sirens generally can be heard up to a mile away. Locations for the new sirens — many of which are hills or other high locations — were chosen based on their ability for the wailing to travel some distance and be heard well outdoors, Phillips said.

For example, he said, although the siren at Rives Road and Lawson Street will be near the city limits, people as far as the Forest Park and Rivermont Heights areas should be able to hear it.

Locations also were chosen due to their proximity to outdoor recreation areas where people congregate, such as the Ainsley Street playground and the Dick & Willie walking trail.

Sirens may or may not be able to be heard inside homes and other buildings, depending on their distance from a siren and noises — such as from television sets and other electronic devices — inside, according to officials.

Phillips suggests that households buy “weather radios,” which immediately broadcast severe weather warnings when they are issued by the National Weather Service. The radios are sold by many electronics retailers.

Still, sirens are useful for notifying the public of tornadoes, he said.

The new siren system will enable all of the new sirens to be activated simultaneously from a central location, Phillips said.

The sirens now at the fire stations are more than 50 years old and once were used to summon volunteer firefighters into service. Fire department employees must activate them.

Phillips said he hopes the siren can be tied into the new system so it can be sounded precisely at the same time as the others. If not, he said, fire station employees can sound it when the others are activated.

Martinsville is receiving an approximately $190,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to install eight more sirens. Phillips said the grant will pay about 75 percent of the siren system’s cost.

The local match to the FEMA grant is 25 percent. The city recently received confirmation that the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) will pay some of that match. Phillips said he does not yet know how much but he thinks it will be about 20 percent. The city will pay the rest, he said.

After he finds out for certain how much the state will pay, Phillips can put the project out to bid. He said he hopes to be able to do so within the next several months and if a bid can be awarded this summer, the new sirens could be installed by the fall.

Martinsville City Councilman Mark Stroud said he hopes they can be up and running before then.

Warmer months when tornadoes are most likely to occur “will be upon us” soon, Stroud said, so “it’s imperative that those sirens be put into place” as soon as possible.

After the sirens are installed, the city likely will test them once or twice a month to make sure they are working properly and people are familiar with their sound.

Stroud said the city should send residents information on the sirens when they are installed.


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