County To Fund Study Of Existing Public Warning Sirens

SNOW HILL – Despite cost concerns, county officials agreed to move forward with an evaluation of public warning sirens throughout Worcester County.

The Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday agreed to spend roughly $14,000 evaluating the county’s siren system. They also agreed to take over the siren system, which in the past has been partially the responsibility of local fire companies.

“If we’re going to have a system it ought to work,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.

According to Worcester County Emergency Services, there are 19 outdoor public warning sirens in the county, excluding those owned and maintained by the Town of Ocean City. For years, the county has held responsibility for siren control boxes and the system that supports their activation. Local fire companies and municipalities, however, have been responsible for the sirens themselves as well as for providing power to them.

County staff said maintenance on the system hadn’t been performed for some time since a local vendor was no longer available. As a result, staff recommended spending an estimated $14,050 with Federal Signal of Illinois for an evaluation.

Commissioner Josh Nordstrom said that was a lot of money for an evaluation and asked if the company would be fixing anything.

James Hamilton, the county’s assistant director of emergency services, said minor issues would be addressed during the evaluation. He compared it to vehicle maintenance.

“We’re bringing every siren in for an oil change,” he said. “If we find out it needs a new transmission it’s not going to get accomplished.”

Billy Birch, the county’s director of emergency services, said the system was really old, with some sirens dating back to 1925.

“We’re not talking about the latest greatest sirens at this point,” he said.

Bertino spoke in support of the evaluation.

“The reality is the system’s broken,” he said. “Out of 19 I think we have six that are not working.”

He said the county needed to have a way to alert citizens who might not be tied in to the county’s emergency phone notifications.

Commissioner Ted Elder agreed that the system needed an overall evaluation.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to invest,” he said. “Like you said we haven’t put much into it since Herbert Hoover. It’s time we go ahead and get these things straight.”

Commissioner Jim Bunting said that in addition to evaluating the system, the county should address who was responsible for it. He added that a recent meeting with fire company officials hadn’t gone well.

“I’m concerned about our relationship with the fire companies,” he said.

The commissioners voted first to move forward with the system evaluation and followed that up with a vote to take over responsibility for the siren system.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.