Petersburg has been relying on one emergency siren for decades. It’s about 40 years old and is located on top of the middle school. It only reaches part of town. But that’s about to change.
Don Shantz is setting up a ladder against a tower located near Petersburg’s ball fields. He’s a technician contracted to install two new sirens in town. He opens an electric box on the side of the tower to check some connections. Jeff Dupilka supervises nearby.
The two men are with West Shore Services in Michigan which sells and installs in outdoor warning systems. Dupilka has been installing sirens for about 40 years. He says this new one is what they consider mid-range. It doesn’t rotate like larger models.
“The sound on that siren comes out 360 degrees,” Dupilka said. “The bigger sirens have a horn that spins around like this and it funnels all the power in one direction so they’re louder. But sometimes they’re confusing. This way the sound is there.”
Dupilka says there have been two major improvements in siren technology since World War II: a battery backup system and improved radio equipment, allowing remote monitoring. The new models run on way less power than old ones and can sound for 15 minutes straight on their battery backups.
“If the power went out they would know in 30 seconds when it switched to batteries and it would send a signal back saying, ‘I lost my AC power,’” Dupilka said.
The new unit also keeps records of when it was restored and communicates with the fire hall several times a day to confirm that the siren is working.
The Petersburg borough purchased the new sirens through a $56,000 tsunami grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The borough also made improvements to the town’s old siren.
The next day at the Fire Hall the technicians are giving the sirens their first go. We’re standing on the south side of the building near a tower that has a new antenna at the top for the siren system. The sun is shining and warm, matching the mood that Sandy Dixon is in. She’s the Fire and EMS Director and she’s been waiting for these sirens for a long time.
“I’m excited,” she said.
Off in the distance we hear a siren.
“So, how far away is that siren?” I ask.
“It’s out at the Bay View Estates area so Hungerford Hill, Scow Bay area,” Dixon said.
That’s a couple of miles south of town.
In recent emergencies, the borough has relied on the Code Red system, which contacts people by phone and e-mail during emergencies. In addition to that, now they’ll be able to hit a few buttons from a control room inside the Fire Hall and reach most of Petersbsurg.
“OK, here we go,” says Dupilka.
“This is an all test,” says Dixon. “All three sirens.”
Slowly, you hear the build up of sirens sounding from different directions.
Dixon says she is pleased with the test results. She says it’s definitely an upgrade from having just one old siren.
“Because often when we would sound the siren that’s existing on the middle school people on Sandy Beach couldn’t hear it or people at Scow Bay couldn’t hear it,” she said. “I live in Severson Subdivision and it depended what the weather was like whether I could hear it in Severson Subdivision. So, now, we’re accomplishing that.”
“How would you compensate for all the residents not being able to hear the siren?” I ask.
“Well, we utilized the Code Red System,” Dixon said. “Prior to that they would sound the siren and then it would be up to the police department and fire department to drive around and do public announcements using PA systems on the vehicles.”
“Just kind of yelling at people loudly from their cars?” I ask.
“Right,” she agrees.
For the new siren system, the Petersburg Borough paid just under $3,000. The rest was paid for by the grant.
Poles for the new sirens and some electrical work were donated by Petersburg Municipal Power and Light.