Thursday, June 13, 2024
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City officials respond to storm siren failure

MURRAY – As part of Severe Weather Awareness Week, Kentucky held its annual Statewide Tornado Drill on Wednesday at 9:07 a.m. While the majority of the storm sirens in Calloway County did work as expected, two of the three sirens within Murray’s city limits did not sound. 

Calloway County Emergency Management Director Josh Kerr said that both sirens in Hazel and all of the sirens on Murray State University’s campus went off without a hitch, but only one of the three within Murray’s city limits sounded. The siren located on Doran Road did work, but those on Glendale Road and in Riviera Courts stayed silent. 

The storm sirens are sounded whenever the National Weather Service (NWS) issues a tornado warning for Murray and/or Hazel. In accordance with NWS guidelines and the county’s emergency plan, the sirens are tested once each quarter. As noted in a press release about the statewide drill, the tests “allow officials to more accurately determine the proper functioning of each siren, which is difficult to do under actual threat conditions.” 

Unbeknownst to many, while the quarterly tests are coordinated through Calloway County Emergency Management, the county does not actually own or operate any of the storm sirens within its borders. Murray and Hazel own and maintain the sirens within their city limits; similarly, Murray State owns and maintains the sirens located on campus. 

“I will assure you that as soon as we were made aware of this, we started trying to find out who could diagnose the problem,” said Murray Mayor Bob Rogers in an email. “We don’t want to have an emergency and not be able to warn our residents.”

Murray Police Chief Sam Bierds said on Thursday that both sirens are functioning properly now, but he also confirmed that those sirens did not sound during the last quarterly test in December. At the time, a technician assessed the sirens and was able to repair both of them, but it was determined that one on Glendale Road needed to be replaced. 

“They apparently got it working at the time, and now it has failed again,” Bierds said of the Riviera Courts siren. “So, I’m afraid that we’re going to have the (same) issue with the Riviera siren that we’ve got with the Glendale Road siren. 

This siren on Glendale Road, just west of 12th Street, also did not sound during the recent test.

“Those two sirens are relatively old. When I had the company come down and look at our siren on Glendale Road, the issue is the fuse keeps blowing, and that basically cuts power off to the whole system. They’re remote set off by a radio system; so we punch a code into a number pad in our dispatch center, and that sends the radio signal out that then sets the siren off. If that fuse blows, then the whole system goes down; and for whatever reason, we’ve been trying to piecemeal it together for, I guess, quite some time. When the repairman came down, he (said it) needs to be replaced. So, I’m going to have him come out and look at our Riviera sirens to see if we’re in the same spot.” 

Bierds, who celebrates his first anniversary as chief later this month, said that, while he had not thought of storm sirens falling under the purview of the police chief, it makes sense because the signal that sets off the sirens comes from his dispatchers.  

“It’s not a police matter; it’s not a crime matter; but it’s a public safety matter, and we do have the dispatch center,” Bierds said. “When the mayor asked, ‘Do you mind looking into this?’ Absolutely. Because this is where my family lives. This is as much my community as it is anyone else’s, and storm preparedness is important.” 

“You know, I live on that side of town,” he added, “and if for some reason I can’t hear the siren go off… or my mom, who lives on that side of town… it’s just there’s such a personal connection for me and really everybody in the city government who lives and works in this city. We take it very seriously.”

Since being charged with the responsibility of overseeing the storm sirens, he has called a technician to work on them at least twice, not including Wednesday’s failure. 

“The thing is they can be repaired enough to pass the repair test, but the longevity of those repairs is what’s not lasting, which is why we need to replace them,” Bierds explained. “We can repair it, and maybe they can last a few weeks, a few months, but they don’t make it to the next quarterly test. We don’t know when they’re going down unless we’re going out there every day and testing them, and I think the citizens would be a little upset if I set the sirens off every day.” 

Bierds acknowledged that cost is an issue but said that the city has been diligent in looking for cost-effective ways to replace the Glendale siren since it failed in December. 

“I think we’ve found a pretty good option for what we need to do; but if we have to replace two sirens, we’re going to have to replace two sirens,” he said. “The big thing is that as soon as we knew that we had an issue, this is something we’ve been working on.” 

The plan is to completely replace the siren units; that means new radio components, battery back-up and speakers. Bierds said that the unit they are looking at has a range of seven to 10 miles, which will greatly enhance coverage across the city.

Once everything is in place in terms of financing, Bierds said it should take three to six weeks to have the new sirens operational. Rogers has been in communication with Murray Electric System General Manager Tony Thompson about using some of their bucket trucks to assist with the installation of the replacement units. Officials will also need to secure a crane to hoist the new unit on top of the existing poles. 

“If they were more frequent,” Bierds said of the quarterly tests, “we would probably know a bit more, but obviously, you have to do these things on a schedule. And we do the tests, and we’re aware of the issue and actively working to fix it. In a perfect world, we would’ve had everything installed and replaced before this quarterly test, but sometimes when you’re looking at a multi-thousand-dollar project, you’ve got to take a little time to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row before you pull the trigger on it. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.” 

Sentinel Staff

Jessica Paine
I’m Jessica Paine, founder of The Murray Sentinel. You may know me from my time as a citizen journalist, running the Calloway Covid-19 Count page on Facebook, or you may be familiar with my more recent work for another local news outlet. Being that I’m “from here,” you may have known me since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper,” although you knew me as Jessica Jones. But whether you know me or not, I’m glad you found your way here.


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