The city of Hannibal’s outdoor warning system will be receiving an upgrade, mandated by the federal government, in the near future.
The mandated part of the upgrade, which will see the sirens operating on a narrow bandwidth, must be completed by Jan. 1, 2013, otherwise the city could be fined up to $16,000 a day.
“You can bet I will see to it the city does not get fined,” said John Hark, the city’s emergency management director, explaining that a portion of the sirens “talk back” mechanism can be disabled until upgrades can be made to all 16 of the city’s sirens.
Hark says the federal government’s narrowband guidelines have caught many communities by surprise.
“We were not aware sirens were going to fall into this category. We knew all radios, (radios in) vehicles and stuff like that was, so we’re playing a little catch-up now.”
In addition to making sure all the city’s sirens are narrowband, other improvements will take place.
“It will bring all of the old sirens at least to the 21st Century,” said Hark. “All the sirens will be able to ‘talk back’ so they can tell us if there’s something wrong so we can get somebody in here to work on them.”
The city’s siren system features eight units that are closing in on 50 years old and eight sirens that were installed about a decade ago.
“This will update the eight oldest ones which we retro-fitted about eight years ago,” said Hark. “I think we’ll have a much better system that will meet federal standards as far as narrow banding and will talk back to us to let us know if there is a problem. I just hope it’s another vast improvement.”
The cost of the upgrade approved by the City Council Tuesday night is $35,912. Initially, the city was counting on a $19,000 grant to help pay for the upgrades. However, when money for all equipment was cut earlier this year, the city was left to foot the bill alone.
City Manager Jeff LaGarce said that since the city-wide cleanup cost roughly $30,000 less than expected, the additional upgrade cost can be absorbed by the budget.
Hark is holding out hope that either the state or federal government might still come through with some money.
“As far as I’m concerned, FEMA and Homeland Security, this is what they’re all about,” he said. “The feds want us to push our local people for preparedness. Now it’s time for them to come across and realize it takes money for us to warn the people.
Page 2 of 2 - “I’m still making my routine phone calls to the Department of Public Safety, and Homeland Security, and State Emergency Management Agency, but whenever you’re dealing with state and federal money and grants, it’s like fighting a flood, you go with the flow.”