Dale mayors, commissioners discuss weather sirens

By Michelle Mann mmann@southeastsun.com

Dale mayors, commissioners discuss weather sirens
Which municipalities will take ownership of the emergency weather sirens within their parameters needs to be decided by Aug. 1.At a joint meeting of the mayors of Daleville, Level Plains, Ariton, Midland City and Ozark, the Dale County Commissioners and Dale County emergency response organizations June 13, Dale County Commission Attorney Henry Steagall reiterated that after the Aug. 1 deadline, the emergency weather sirens currently owned by the county will be taken down unless the county has been officially notified by the municipalities wanting ownership.What to do about the aging sirens located throughout Dale County has been an ongoing subject of debate for years. “I am glad we are getting to a point where we are working on a resolution,” Dale County Emergency Management Agency Director Kurt McDaniel told those attending the meeting that followed the regularly scheduled commission meeting. “This issue has been pushed around and pushed around.”“We just wanted to give all the mayors an opportunity to come and have a roundtable discussion about this,” Steagall said. “This really started with (Level Plains) Mayor (Bruce) Grantham who asked us questions about the sirens that we thought were important and we wanted to have this meeting and try and answer those questions.”The commission in May authorized Steagall to send letters to each of the municipalities within the county informing them that the commission is deactivating the sirens “and in their place will activate a more technologically advanced telephonic warning system which will reach more of Dale County’s citizens without the chance for failure when an emergency comes.”Commissioners are currently working with McDaniel to transition from the emergency weather sirens to an enhanced and cost effective critical communications provider.The siren subject arose after a Jan. 24 work session during which Dale County Commission Chairman Mark Blankenship told commissioners that Daleville was interested in operating the weather siren independent of the Dale County EMA.Finding a system that reaches throughout the whole county has been a goal of McDaniel’s for two years, he said. “We’re moving forward with trying to reach the county as a whole and with today’s technology that is possible.”McDaniel has recommended that the county partner with Rave Alert, a state-of-the-art and cost effective critical communications provider that can send emergency alerts to land line phones as well as cell phones. Such a system will notify all Dale County citizens, even those whose municipalities maintain their own siren.Daleville Mayor Jayme Stayton said that Daleville will assume ownership of the siren within city limits and thanked the commission for the opportunity to do so. “We’re going to take over setting them off ourselves but we’re also going to coordinate with Level Plains and Clayhatchee to handle that side of the county so that if one is set off, it will alert the othertwo cities.”The Level Plains siren does not work because a key component “has fried.” It is estimated that it will cost some $1,500 to replace that component which is essential for further evaluation of the siren’s condition, Grantham said. The Level Plains Council had not yet decided whether to assume ownership of the siren within city limits, Grantham said, adding that a council decision is expected in the near future.“We’re trying every way we can to keep (the siren) but I didn’t want the city to pour money in to something that we didn’t have a means to activate or keep up,” Grantham said. “But since the county has committed to activate (the siren), my goal would be to try to partner with Daleville and Clayhatchee because we are on that side of the county.”“It would be good for Level Plains, Clayhatchee and Daleville to get together and get it coordinated,” Steagall agreed. “And the county will still set it off if that's what you want.”Midland City Mayor Joanne Grimsley said that her town would assume ownership of the siren in municipal limits.Dale County Commissioner Charles “Chic” Gary said that the Wallace College facilities manager told him that Wallace College would partner with the city of Dothan to maintain the siren on campus.Newton City Councilman Ed Woodard said that the Newton council had not yet made a decision on maintenance of the siren within Newton town limits.Steagall said that the town of Ariton plans to keep the siren within the town limits. The town of Clayhatchee and Pinckard were not represented at the meeting but Dale County Commissioner Steve McKinnon said he would discuss the matter with the respective mayors.Ozark Mayor Bob Bunting said that six of the seven sirens within city limits are operational. The seventh will be replaced next year at an estimated cost of $15,000 but a backup plan is in place to notify people in that area until such time that it is (replaced).”Bunting said his main concern had been who would set off the sirens. “The EMA is going to do it for the near future,” Steagall said.A siren at G.W. Long School in Skipperville and one at the Echo Fire Department will both be removed.The commission is not going to store the sirens that come down. “I assume we are going to give them to the others that are keeping their siren to use for parts,” Steagall said. “We’re not going to leave an inoperable siren up giving the wrong impression to the citizens that it works. That's just a liability issue.”Steagall reiterated the Aug. 1 deadline. “I’m not saying that it couldn’t be moved but if no municipality requests otherwise, and that date is not moved at somebody’s request, we’re going to assume that no action by the council is a ‘no’ and we’re going start taking them down.“The mayors that want to keep their sirens need to present something in writing to the commission and we will give you a bill of sale,” Steagall said. “The councils need to take action because it's a major decision not only money-wise, but responsibility-wise.“The county is getting out of it as far as continuing to have responsibility for maintaining the sirens,” Steagall said. “Yet as a service to all the municipalities, the EMA is going to continue to set them off if that's what you want.”Bunting said the city would maintain the repeater equipment located in Ozark. “We know it’s ours and we know it is our responsibility but I think it’s EMA responsibility to warn the people in Ozark and Dale County. I think it’s their responsibility to have somebody to push that button and maintain that equipment.”“We’re going to do that,” Steagall said.The next meeting of the Dale County Commission is Tuesday, June 27, at the government building in Ozark. A 10 a.m. work session is followed immediately by a voting meeting. Both meetings are open to the public.
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