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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Siren installation hits snag
Telephone lines damaged during dig for utility pole
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City crews finish installing a tornado siren (at top right) Wednesday at the intersection of Spruce and Brookdale streets in Martinsville. (Bulletin photo by Mickey Powell)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

City crews were alarmed by problems they encountered while installing one of Martinsville’s new tornado sirens.

The siren, which finally was hoisted atop a utility pole at the intersection of Spruce and Brookdale streets on Wednesday afternoon, is one of eight being installed as part of a citywide network.

Crews began installing the siren last week. While digging a hole for the pole, they hit telephone lines that they did not know were in the ground. A utility line locating service that they contacted beforehand made no mention of the lines, said city Emergency Management Coordinator Bob Phillips.

It took several days for CenturyLink crews to repair the lines, and “lots of customers were without phone” service in the meantime, he said.

City crews returned to the intersection on Wednesday for their second try at installing the siren. This time, as they were digging the hole for the pole, they encountered a large rock in the ground that had to be removed.

They had to “break it up ... and bring it out in pieces,” Phillips said of the rock.

By late afternoon, though, the hole was dug, the pole was installed and the siren was mounted on top of it.

Four sirens so far have been installed around Martinsville. In addition to the one at Spruce and Brookdale, they are on Fairy Street near the back parking lot of Martinsville High School, at the intersection of Madison and Randolph streets behind Patrick Henry Mall and on Ainsley Street next to J. Russell Mason Park and across from the Clearview Early Childhood Center.

The other four will be installed at the fire station on Starling Avenue and at the intersections of Roundabout Road and Fourth Street, Mulberry Road and Corn Tassel Trail and Rives Road and Lawson Street.

Phillips said he hopes crews will be able to install the remaining sirens, and hook up the electrical equipment necessary to make all of them wail, by the end of September. He said crews will do the installations as they have time amid other projects.

Once they are working, the city will sound the sirens whenever the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for the Martinsville-Henry County area. They also could be sounded if the city finds out that other types of storms with damaging winds are approaching, according to Phillips.

A computer system will automatically sound the sirens when a tornado warning is received, officials have said.

A much-older siren atop the fire station on West Church Street uptown that has been used for tornado warnings in recent years will still be sounded by hand, creating a total of nine sirens in the city’s warning system.

The siren to be installed at the Starling Avenue fire station will replace one already there that has sound distribution problems, Phillips has said.

Both older sirens were used decades ago to call volunteer firefighters into service before newer electronic technology, such as pagers, eliminated the need for that practice.

The siren system is to be tested at noon on the first Wednesday of each month to ensure the sirens work and people are familiar with their sounds.

Tests will last for roughly 16 seconds, but for tornado warnings, the sirens will sound with up-and-down wails for three minutes, according to Phillips.

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


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