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Siren silenced

News Letter Journal - Staff Photo -
Alexis Barker, NLJ News Editor

Lunchtime blast is a thing of the past

After years of having a noon whistle that could be heard in areas across Weston County, the practice of testing the warning sirens on a daily basis has gone away, according to Gilbert Nelson, Weston County Emergency Management coordinator.

Nelson announced the change via Facebook on March 7, with several individuals expressing dissatisfaction with the decision.

“They have been testing it (the sirens) ever since I can remember,” Nelson told the News Letter Journal in an email. “I remember when they used to sound them for fires as well to let the fire department know there was a fire before they had pagers. I would rather sound them to let the public know there is a fire and watch out for fire trucks than sound it every day so people know it is noon.”

He agreed, however, that his personal preference isn’t shared by all in Weston County.

“I know it (has) been tradition and part of our small town’s charm (Newcastle, Osage and Upton’s) for decades but I think it is time for change,” Nelson said. “We are actually one of few communities left that actually still do daily siren tests.”

He noted that while there are people who are sad about the silencing of the siren for various reasons, he is sure there are others who will be happy, including people who work night shifts.

But when feelings are set aside, Nelson suggests the real question that needed to be considered was whether or not the daily testing is necessary.

“Monthly is sufficient and will be easier to manage and coordinate to ensure that they are properly working. I need to make sure they work for severe weather, escapes, hazards and such, not just to let people know it is noon every day,” Nelson said.

Under the daily testing program, he explained that he is unaware if an individual siren is not working unless someone informs him directly. Nelson noted such information usually doesn’t happen in a “timely manner.”

“With monthly tests, I can position people at each siren and assure that they all work and keep better track,” he said, noting that he also hopes to get a little extra life out of some older equipment

“We have two new sirens, leaving five very, very old sirens in the county. The less work they do the better, and the less work the new ones do the better so that they last longer,” Nelson said, reporting that a new siren costs roughly $70,000 — not including poles and electricians.

“In the future, I hope to replace the five old sirens and add others in new places to increase our coverage. Upton really needs a second siren, and there are other places that could use one as well,” he said.

While Nelson touted several positive impacts from the change, recent changes in the county’s dispatch operations prompted the decision to make the traditional noon whistle go away.

“What brought about the change now is that dispatch finally moved to its new location. One thing that was overlooked was the panel that sends the notifications to the radios that control the sirens, and they are lacking some parts,” Nelson said. “So right now, we are not capable of doing automatic noon siren tests. … So, the decision was made to just make it a monthly test once we get set up again.”

Monthly testing, he said, is scheduled to be performed at noon on the second Wednesday of each month.

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