Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, May 11, 1998

Sirens aren't meant for indoor warnings


It may come as a surprise to some people, but Winsted's civil defense siren system, both old and the new, was never intended as an indoor warning system.

"It was intended to warn people who are outside to seek cover," said Police Chief Mike Henrich.

Once inside, residents should listen to KDUZ Radio at 1260 AM or KKJR at 107.1 FM, he said.

"When people hear the sirens, they call the dispatch and clog the lines. These are the two radio stations they should listen to," he said.

Recently, the city has installed new sirens, and Henrich said he has had complaints on both sides, the sirens are too loud, or not loud enough.

He's not surprised, because the new sirens are different.

"These sirens rotate, so the sound is different," he said, and this is not what people are used to hearing.

Three civil defense sirens and one fire siren were replaced by two new sirens.

"People that lived next to the old sirens and could hear them in the house aren't going to hear these, but it's not designed as in indoor warning system. It's designed for outdoor warnings," he said.

The old sirens were located at First Street and Fairlawn Avenue; Westgate Drive; First Street South and Sherman Avenue; and the fire siren at Hainlin Park.

The new sirens are located at First Street and Fairlawn Avenue and Quast Transfer.

Well-insulated walls in new homes also impede the siren's signal from entering the home, as do other factors such as the noise from a central air conditioner, etc.

"When it gets hot, people shut the windows and turn on the central air," he said.

Henrich said the old sirens were replaced for several reasons.

Due to growth of Winsted, the sirens' range was no longer covering the city. It did not reach Quast Transfer, the airport, waste water treatment plant, new industrial park, or the new Winsted On The Lake housing development.

The old sirens were land line, triggered through a phone line.

"If the phone or the electricity went out, the sirens wouldn't work," he said.

The new sirens are triggered with a radio frequency, like a pager.

"With the old siren, someone needed to go to St. Mary's Care Center and push the button, so we would need a (storm) spotter near St. Mary's who could push the button or call St. Mary's and have someone do it.

"With this system, when a spotter sees a tornado, he can radio the sheriff's department and they start the siren," Henrich said. The siren can also be turned on from the Hutchinson police department dispatch.

"We needed more coverage and we had to consider, do we put up two or three more sirens that are land line, buy two or three more radio-activated ones and change the others over, or do we replace the old with two new sirens and cut down on the maintenance cost?" he said.

Replacing phone relays in the sirens cost an average of $300, Henrich said, and could not be done by city maintenance workers.

Henrich worked on the siren replacement for two years and recommended to the council the Federal 2001 from the Federal Signal Corporation. One siren's coverage is about a one mile radius. Its output is 127 decibels and the sirens rotate at two to six rotations per minute.

Cost for the system was $23,500 including installation. Another bid from a company called Whelen was $22,000 without installation.

Henrich added the sales person was Tommy Thompson, father of former Winsted Police Chief Tim Thompson. "So he knows the city well, and the placement of the sirens is what he recommended."

As to the concern that people will not hear the sirens in their homes at night, Henrich agreed some will not, "but the system didn't wake everyone before. People in the south side of town had a hard time hearing the sirens," he said.

Another signal

Because the sirens are radio-activated, Henrich said homes and businesses can purchase, "what amounts to a large pager."

This device is sold by several companies and when the siren is triggered by the sheriff's department, these receivers also send out a warning signal.

Henrich said he would encourage the nursing home, businesses, daycares, and industry to purchase the receivers.

"The alert sound can be sent over the PA system," he said. The receiver can also be purchased by homeowners.

Henrich said Federal has an emergency alert receiver that goes along with the siren system. (At Tuesday's city council meeting, Council Member Gary Lenz said he had seen similar devices at Radio Shack.) An informational letter about the receiver will be sent to city residents with their water bills, he said.

If an order of 10 or more receivers is placed with Federal, Henrich said the cost would be $149.95, and he has asked the city to pick up the shipping charge. (The council has yet to approve this.)

He said he plans to offer to take the orders for the receiver, and the fire department has agreed to pass them out when they arrive.

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