EMA working 'feverishly' to try to meet siren update deadline


Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency officials told FOX19 they would have the new sirens on board by the first of April, but admit there is still plenty of work left to get all sirens on board.

EMA officials say they are working feverishly to get the new sirens up and running, but they say the transition has created some challenges; kinks the system that need to be ironed out.

"We're on target to have a working siren in every populated area of the county on April the 1st," Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune said. "This project is finally being completed and that's something to celebrate."

As of Friday, Dana Schratt who is leading the EMA's project told FOX19 115 of the 131 new sirens have been permitted. She says the old system on its own was only operating at 80 to 85 percent.

Those permitted sirens are now in the process of being commissioned by American Signal Corporation which requires installing a software chip that is programmed with software to make the siren compatible with the new system. Schratt says Duke Energy workers are also in the process of pulling power to the sirens and electricians are continuing their inspections.

FOX19 requested the number of sirens commissioned to date, but so far the EMA has not responded with that total.

"I want everything running on April 1st but honestly if we don't have 100 percent coverage on April 1st it's not because of what anybody's doing right now," Portune said. "If you want to find fault for that look at those county commissioners in '01, '02, '03, '04, '05, and '06 who would not support fixing this important part of the public safety net we have here in Hamilton County."

Schratt says 64 sirens will not be on the new system until they are upgraded. She says that phase of the project has yet to be bid out. Those 64 sirens are relatively new, having been replaced in the last 10 years and according to Schratt and are not in need of replacement themselves.

When asked by FOX19 for a list of which sirens are working, EMA officials responded by saying a glitch in the old system has resulted in inaccurate report of working sirens. Schratt says the sirens work on a two way radio system. She says the radio system "send" function is working but the "receive" response is not coming back as it should due to interference in the frequency.

"That doesn't mean the sirens aren't going to function," Portune explained. "That just means there is going to be some ongoing [diagnostic] work after April 1st. "

Schratt says they are working with the contractor to fix the interference issue.

"I won't be happy if they don't all work on April 1st, I'll be honest with you … I won't be, because that's what EMA committed to do and if they don't deliver on that I won't be happy," Portune said. "But not withstanding that … it is a much, much, much better system and we will have 100 percent coverage and I believe it's going to be on April the 1st."

The installation of an additional 22 sirens which will be placed on top of area buildings has been delayed because of issues with structural drawings for roof mounts. Schratt says those sirens will stay on the buildings and run on the old system until their replacements are installed. She says that means the county will continue to operate duel system until all upgrades are complete.

To ensure they reach as many residents as possible in the case of an emergency, Schratt says they are also using a reverse notification system which uses a phone system to alert residents. Citizens without a land line can sign a cell phone number up through the county EMA's website.

Along with new sirens, the county has also been divided into six zones instead of the previous four to make sure warnings are as targeted as possible during emergencies.

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