by Randy Pierce
Forward movement is occurring regarding new outdoor warning sirens acquired by St. Clair County with many of the 79 previously used being replaced another 43 to be added to help enhance the safety of residents during times of stormy weather.
Herb Simmons, director of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency, reported to the county board public safety committee at its meeting held on Monday, September 25, that there are about 75 more sirens to be installed as part of this transition process.
In conjunction with this project, testing is occurring on what Simmons referred to as repeaters and transmitters used in conjunction with the sirens to make sure they are functioning correctly in terms of receiving the signals from the sirens that have been installed already.
Last October, the county board authorized the approval of a contract with a company called ATI Systems of East Boston, Massachusetts for the installation and configuration of the upgraded siren network at a cost of $2,494,454.21 which was nearly $1 million less than the next lowest quote of three companies responding.
County Board Chairman Mark Kern said this will help to provide total coverage for the entire county, including some of the more remote rural areas, by placing the new sirens in some locations where there are none now and upgrading the capability of the system to provide advance notice of pending serious storms.
He added that the county will own the system and the National Weather Service will have the capability to activate it but local communities, if they wish to purchase the necessary equipment, will also be entitled to implement the activation also. Many of the 79 sirens now is use, Kern explained, do not function well so the replacements will help improve upon this situation.
In the more heavily populated parts of the county, Kern added, there will be a voice-activated mechanism in place with actual audio announcements that are broadcast through the sirens themselves.
“It is really a state-of-the-art warning system,” Kern said, “something we’ve never had in this county.”
Prior to the meeting of the county board where this was approved, its public safety committee, chaired by Jerry Dinges of Belleville, met to consider it and unanimously voted to move forward on the recommendation from Simmons.
A request for proposals, Simmons noted, was announced with three bids submitted by vendors including the one from ATI which was accepted. One of those bidders, he said, American Signal Corporation, did not meet all of the requirements of the specifications and was therefore disqualified.
Each community which would want to have its own siren controller, according to Simmons, could get one from ATI for $9033.23. There is a three-year extended warranty on all of the sirens then after it expires, he said, there will be a $25,000 annual preventative maintenance fee paid by the county to cover all of them.
The new sirens are being put on top of sturdy 55-foot wooden poles at the new locations while the bid package also includes software, needed technological components, battery power, radios and other communication equipment, antennas, systems installation and start-up assistance, engineering, operation manuals and more.
The siren locations include more in the northern and western areas of the county where there is a greater concentration of population, but the rural regions will additionally be well covered, per what Simmons stated previously, according to map provided by ATI of where they will be replaced or newly installed.
St. Clair County Board member Robert Allen Jr. of Fairmont City, whose district covers an area just to the northwest of Fairview Heights, described the new system as “very comprehensive” and noted he worked with Simmons and his EMA staff for six months or more looking into this matter.
“He should be commended,” Allen said in reference to Simmons, “for the amount of work he has put into this. To go from 79 to nearly doubling the amount of siren coverage is a very, very big plus for this county.”
Allen further said, noting that he is responsible for activating the siren(s) in his community, involving the National Weather Service is a very significant component of this effort, “The protection we’re going to get out of this is second to none.”
Simmons concluded the discussion by saying that getting the National Weather Service to play such a vital role with its automated activation process in the system “is the wave of the future. It will help us.”