By Joel Hall
Heeding the calls of some Jonesboro residents for a more reliable tornado warning siren, the Jonesboro City Council voted Monday to replace its manually-operated siren with a new, automated system.
The Council voted 4-2 - with councilmen Rick Yonce and Roger Grider opposed - to approve the purchase of a new, outdoor Storm Sentry siren system. The system will cost $7,243.50, money not included in the city's 2009 budget, according to Jonesboro Mayor Luther Maddox.
The city's current tornado warning system, installed by the city's former volunteer fire department in 2000, consists of three siren posts: one at the Jonesboro Police Department, one near the Clayton County Public Schools Maintenance Building off Stockbridge Road, and one at Clayton County Fire Station No. 13, on the corner of North Main Street and West Mimosa Drive.
Ed Wise, a former volunteer firefighter who helped installed the system, said the responsibility of activating the siren system during a tornado warning fell upon city's police department after the city's volunteer fire department was disbanded in 2005. He said the fact that the current system has to be manually activated has caused problems.
"The police officers are not weathermen," Wise said. "They have other fish to fry. Sometimes [the system] would be activated after the tornado warning. Sometimes it would be activated during a severe thunderstorm or a tornado watch. It should only be activated during a tornado warning.
"When you have sirens activated like that for various things, it confuses people and they stop paying attention," he added. "We needed something with a little more protocol."
According to Wise, who is supplying the siren system to the city, the Storm Sentry automatically sends out an alarm when activated by the National Weather Service. In addition, he said, the system will be able to automatically e-mail, fax, call, or page city residents in the event of a tornado.
"It takes the guess work out of who is supposed to activate it and when," Wise said.
Several citizens spoke in support of the new system.
"We have not had a lot of good success with the sirens in the past because they do go off at odd times," said Jonesboro resident Beverly Lester. "Tornado season is upon us and I think that any help that we can get to let the citizens know that there is a true tornado ... it would be good for the city."
"There have been many times that the [weather] radio has gone off and the siren has gone off later," said Larry Boak, also a Jonesboro resident. "I'm getting old and I don't want to die by default, so I'm in favor of the automated system."
Councilman Clarence Mann expressed concern about how the city would pay for the system, but said the city should find a way to pay for it.
"The first thing I was concerned about was how this would be paid for," Mann said. "If we do have a way to pay for it ... I think it's our duty to listen to the citizens no matter how we feel about it."
Maddox said in order to pay for the siren system, the city would approach the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to determine if officials can use the drug forfeiture fund. If unsuccessful, the city will use its contingency fund to pay for it, he said.