Sirens should keep students safe

Published 4:30 am Sunday, January 20, 2008

Severe weather systems should not go unnoticed by Pearl River County school systems and their surrounding communities after 10 sirens are installed throughout the county and its two cities.

Previous years of working to purchase and install the sirens were unsuccessful until a Hazard Mitigation Grant, available only after Hurricane Katrina, finally gave the county the money it needed, said Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown.

The main purpose of the sirens will be to notify schools of dangerous weather situations but residents in the surrounding areas will also benefit. Emergency Management Operations Center Communications Officer David Moore said the sirens will have a building penetration distance of half a mile, which means residents inside homes will hear the sirens. A mile away residents could still hear the sirens if their home is quiet or if they are outside.

While the sirens will primarily alert schools, their use will not be limited to school hours. They will be used day or night and during the summer when school is out, Moore said.

Brown said Picayune has been trying to install similar siren system since at least 2002. Without the recent grant the county would still probably be without the sirens.

“We tried every avenue we could find, we just couldn’t find funding for them,” Brown said.

The Hazard Mitigation grant has provided $143,629 to pay for the sirens, said Moore. Brown said he expects the sirens to be installed throughout the county before the next storm season.

“This hurricane season we’re going to be in good shape,” Brown said.

Of the ten total sirens, three will be placed in Picayune city limits, one at Nicholson Elementary, three in Poplarville, one at the Pearl River Community College, one at Pearl River Central High School and one at the Pearl River Central Elementary campus in McNeill, Moore said. Their placement will ensure that all schools in the county are covered.

Population wise most of the county will be covered by the sirens, alerting the population of impending severe weather or any other major emergency that could call for evacuation.

A future public relations campaign will educate residents of what actions to take if they hear the sirens. Brown said most likely residents will be told to check with their local media source, either WRJW or the Picayune Item website, if they hear the sirens for information on the emergency and what safety precautions should be taken.

The sirens should be delivered into the county in about six weeks and installation should begin shortly after they arrive, Moore said. Each siren will be mounted by Comm South to an existing telephone pole.

“I’m excited, this is something we have worked on and worked on… finally it’s coming to pass,” Brown said.

Every day personnel at the Pearl River County Emergency Management Center will be monitoring information from the National Weather Service and use that information to determine when the sirens will be used, Moore said. If an emergency is specific to only one area then only that area’s siren will sound, such as in the instance of a tornado, Moore said. Each school will also be contacted by phone to relay specifics of the emergency and the proper plan of action, Moore said.

The grant for the sirens was applied for and secured by the Emergency Management Center while it was under the direction of the recently relieved Director Bobby Strahan. Those sirens will combine with a recently installed reverse 911 system, providing county with more advanced methods of relaying emergency information. The reverse 911 system can’t solely be relied upon since most people rely on cell phones for communication. Cell phone numbers are not listed publicly so calling only land lines, as the reverse 911 system does, would miss a majority of the population, Brown said.