The tone won’t sound any different, but new outdoor warning sirens in Hays, Ellis County and surrounding towns might be a little louder at times.
Other than that, residents might not notice much difference after new severe weather warning sirens are installed this November and December, says Darin Myers, director of Ellis County Fire and Emergency Management.
Whether in Ellis, Victoria, Schoenchen, Munjor, Pfeifer, Catharine, Walker, Antonino, west of Hays at Prairie Acres, or east of Hays on the outskirts of town, people anywhere will recognize the siren and know what it means. The tone will basically sound just like it does now when tested Mondays at noon, Myers said, speaking prior to presenting the project to the Ellis County Commission at its meeting Monday night.
“We’re trying to get the public to take action for sheltering,” he said. “If they were all different tones, you could never consistently communicate your message because they’d all be speaking different languages.”
The sirens will replace ones that are about 40 years old, most of them installed in 1979. Money for the upgrade has been in the county budget for upwards of six years, according to information Myers provided the commissioners at the Ellis County Administrative Center at 718 Main St.
The new sirens originally were part of a larger plan with Hays and Fort Hays State University, both of which upgraded their sirens several years ago, Myers said. The commissioners approved the $184,486.64 project, which includes the low-bid siren purchase of $174,656.64 from Federal Signal, $8,080 to Midwest Energy, and a $1,750 computer server through the Ellis County IT Department,
“This was discussed several years ago and was passed over at the time and nothing happened,” said Commissioner Marcy McClelland. “I think it’s time that we do something.”
The existing sirens are plagued by warping and bending poles, and signs falling off. The system can only be activated through a multi-step process that takes longer and reduces the time people have to shelter. First a storm spotter alerts the emergency operations center, which then confirms the location and information, and passes it along to a dispatcher, who activates the sirens by pressing an icon on a screen. National Weather Service warnings are also confirmed locally before the dispatcher activates the sirens, according to Myers.
The old sirens also are starting to have maintenance and skip issues, and if one malfunctions or doesn’t sound, it’s not apparent until Monday noon testing. Otherwise residents must report failed sirens. Dispatchers can be inundated with calls and traffic. If power fails, the sirens don’t activate. In Victoria, a police officer has to call a number and enter a code to activate the sirens.
With the new system, there are more sirens, and they can be tested individually at daily intervals, with failures identified immediately. Each siren has back-up battery in case of a power failure. The sirens sound immediately when the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Warning. But they also can be activated with the current system, as well as by the emergency operations center and the Hays Fire Department.
Myers also got the go-ahead Monday evening from not only Ellis County, but also the cities of Ellis and Victoria. The cost to Ellis is $47,009.12, and for Victoria it's $22,754.56.
Eleven new sirens will be installed and activated, along with an online server and software, antennas, radios and poles.
“Midwest Energy is selling us the poles at low cost and installing them for us, and bringing the power to the poles,” Myers said prior to the meeting, which will save the county and cities money.
With the new system, warning siren devices can be installed in schools, healthcare facilities and other places linked to the county software platform.
In other county business, the commissioners:
• Approved premium pay as a high-demand occupation for the job of Shop Foreman of the Public Works Shop. The position has been open for 11 months, with only one applicant who declined it due to low pay. An internal candidate will receive a $4,742 pay increase to take the job.
• Reduced their salaries by 5 percent, effective Sept. 23, reducing the County Commission budget by $822 for 2018.