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Sirens ready for installation in city
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This is the model of siren Martinsville will install to warn residents of tornadoes. Eight new sirens will be installed around the city, and installation could begin as early as today. (Contributed photo)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Installation of Martinsville’s new tornado warning sirens could begin as soon as today, according to city Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Phillips.

The work should be completed within six weeks, Phillips told Martinsville City Council on Tuesday.

In an interview Wednesday, he said the first phase of the project will be installing the sirens atop wooden utility poles throughout the city. Then city crews will install electrical connections needed to make them sound.

Eight sirens will be installed at:

• Roundabout Road and Fourth Street.

• Ainsley Street, near 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. That siren will replace one there that has sound distribution problems, according to Phillips.

The eight new sirens will bring Martinsville’s total number of tornado sirens to nine. A current siren at the fire station on West Church Street uptown will continue to be used.

That siren and the one at the Starling Avenue fire station, both of which are more than 50 years old, originally were used to call volunteer firefighters into service before the use of communications technology such as pagers. About 10 years ago, city officials decided to start sounding them for tornadoes.

Costs for installing the new sirens are being covered by a $192,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The first new siren to go up will be the one near the high school. Phillips said he anticipates it will be installed either today or Friday.

Once the new sirens are operating, they will be tested at noon on the first Wednesday of every month to ensure they work properly and city residents are familiar with their sound, Phillips said.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for Martinsville, a computer system automatically will activate the new sirens, Phillips said.

The uptown siren will continue to be activated by fire department personnel, he said. Eventually, when money is available, that siren may be connected into the new siren system or replaced due to its age, he added.

For tornado warnings, the sirens will sound for three minutes with repeated up-and-down wails. Monthly tests will be much shorter, Phillips said, with one wail lasting for perhaps 20 seconds.

A map shown at the council meeting indicates at least one siren should be able to be heard at most locations in Martinsville.

Vice Mayor Gene Teague noted, though, that a few locations on edges of the city’s boundaries may not be within a siren’s coverage area.

People indoors might be able to hear sirens in their neighborhoods, but the devices mainly are intended to warn people outdoors of approaching storms, Phillips said.

Therefore, in deciding where to place sirens, he said, factors such as where people often congregate for outdoor activities — such as schools, parks and the Dick & Willie Passage trail — were considered.

Terrain also was a factor. Many locations were chosen because they are elevated, which will enable a siren’s wail to travel farther.

Sirens should be able to be heard by people outdoors at least a mile away, officials have said.

Some localities with sirens sound them for various emergencies. Phillips said plans are for Martinsville to generally use its sirens only for tornado warnings.

“We don’t want to create any confusion” as to what the sirens’ wails mean, he said.

However, Phillips said the sirens also may be sounded if city officials receive warning of other severe weather that may be as damaging as a tornado, such as the strong “derecho” windstorm that struck Martinsville a few years ago.

The same computer system that sounds the sirens also will be capable of warning of storms through text and email messages, he said.

Councilman Mark Stroud has been pushing the city to install more sirens. He commended Phillips for the project coming to fruition.

Now that the sirens are being installed, Stroud said Phillips can start focusing attention on finding a grant to buy a generator that would produce electricity for an emergency heating or cooling shelter at Martinsville Middle School, if such a shelter must be opened during a power failure.

Phillips said he already is working on that project.


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