The board of directors for St. Francois County Joint Communications, which governs 911 service in St. Francois and Ste. Genevieve counties, agreed to streamline emergency siren service, heard an update on the Simms Mountain Tower project, and recognized employees who addressed tower issues in the middle of the night last Wednesday.
The siren software upgrade is timely, since this is Missouri Weather Preparedness Week. The board gave Director Alan Wells the go-ahead to spend a little more than $18,000 to streamline emergency siren service throughout the Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois county area using an automated program.
Currently, the sirens have to be manually tended to after the National Weather Service issues warnings or watches in a polygon, or multi-sided area. Formerly, they issued warnings to whole counties, which often necessitated sirens to be sounded across unaffected areas.
“Used to, it was, if a county is in that activation area, we’d set off the whole county, but there’s some discrepancies there,” Wells recounted. “That storm might be hitting Blackwell and in Farmington, the sun is shining but you’re still setting off the tornado sirens.
“If you do that and you cry wolf too many times, is a citizen going to pay attention to it when you really need them to? So the weather service now does polygon of the affected area, not necessarily by county, which is really an advantage, they’ve done a lot better job with their notifications.”
The tweaks to the siren systems would include Farmington’s sirens, which operated under their former, independent dispatching system although the city’s dispatching service has now been folded into St. Francois County 911 for more than a year now.
In both systems, currently the sirens have to be triggered by the operators themselves.
“It tends to tie up a civil defense channel the whole time the system is going through the warning network, and the operator’s position then is tied up, they can’t do other things while they’re setting off those sirens, and often, during an emergency situation, you need as many hands on deck as possible,” Wells said.
By moving Farmington to the civil defense channel instead of their police department channel, all cities can be put on the automated system.
“I see nothing but advantages here with this type of the network and program,” Wells said. “It comes with a low price of about $18,000 and some change, but we’re freeing up personnel at the time of a disaster. I think it’s money that’s going to be well spent.”
The new Simms Mountain Tower project to build a signal 100 feet higher than the current tower is about to come to a close in the next several weeks, signifying a major improvement over a system that’s been on that big hill since the 1980s.
Board Chairman Ron Bockenkamp called attention to the diligence of Wells, new Deputy Director Chuck Farr and IT Systems Administrator Allen Stegall as they responded to a malfunction on the current Simms Mountain Tower last Wednesday. The men attempted to brush aside the accolades, while Bockenkamp pointed out it was important to let the public know that the emergency system requires 24-7 vigilance.
Sarah Haas is the assistant editor for the Daily Journal. She can be reached at 573-518-3617 or at email@example.com.