EagleHerald Staff Writer
MENOMINEE—The outdoor sirens the City of Menominee has relied on for years to alert the public about the threat of a major natural disaster or military strike are broken.
Instead of repairing the three existing sirens at a significant expense, the Public Safety/Public Works Committee Wednesday recommended the city remove them and not replace them. The topic is on the agenda for tonight’s Menominee City Council meeting at 6 p.m. at 2511 10th St., and time will be allotted for public comments.
“These weather sirens have been a point of contention for many, many years. They don’t always work. They’re a constant issue. (Fire) Chief Petersen needs to be commended for just keeping them up and running, because they’ve been a constant nightmare,” said Interim City Manager/Police Chief Brett Botbyl.
“Many places are actually just getting rid of them due to technology,” Botbyl said. Most people have weather apps on their smartphones with radar maps that will tell where a tornado is going to hit and where the lightning strikes are, he said.
But Menominee resident Brenda Quaak hopes the city doesn’t push the burden of safety communication to the citizens.
“I’ve got to believe there are systems out there we can utilize and purchase,” she said, noting she doesn’t have a TV or a radio at her house on 1st Street. “I keep a landline,” she said, because “I don’t always have cellular service.”
“If I have nothing else, are they going to start calling landlines?” Quaak asked. “Is it my responsibility to keep updating my technology or do we have a community that makes sure everybody is getting emergency alerts of some sort, such as a P.A. (pubilc announcement) system?”
Menominee is following the lead of a number of other communities that have removed the antiquated siren systems, said Patrick Parker, president of the Great Lakes Division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “The old sirens for the roof are kind of going by the wayside,” he said.
“They’re being eliminated as far as I know. I’m from Michigan. A lot of communities are removing them just because everyone has a cellphone now,” he said. Ingallston Township Supervisor Paul Anderson said Ingallston doesn’t have a siren system because it’s so rural. (See related story.)
Botbyl referred to an agenda document Petersen prepared that stated ATI Systems, the Boston-based manufacturer of the current siren system used in Menominee, has failed to respond to the city’s requests for information about the feasibility and cost to retrofit the current siren system to non-rotating sirens that might be more reliable.
New systems available
The EagleHerald contacted ATI Systems Friday and learned the company has several new systems available. Most cost about $30,000 for siren or tone-and-voice system that reaches two miles. The company said many communities continue to rely on an alerting system to notify the public of a tornado, lightning or forest fire. “We now have fires that travel at 54 miles (per hour) over the hill, unprecedented,” said Bob McLaughlin, manager, ATI Systems in Boston.
“In the west part of the United States and Canada, interest is actually increasing in putting together a layered approach to community warning,” McLaughlin said, noting the company’s systems also incorporate phone and computer alerts where people are interested in receiving these. ATI’s new systems work with technologies such as the CodeRED Mobile Alert from OnSolve LLC, designed for public agency communications, Everbridge E911, and Integrated Public Alert and Warning Systems (IPAWS) from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
But these notification systems rely on cellphone users to register their numbers and keep their cellphones charged and up to date.
The dam on the Menominee River could pose a safety issue if it were to break. “If a community has a dam, if there’s an issue with a dam, you might have six minutes to evacuate to higher ground,” McLaughlin said.
Besides communication systems mounted on poles or structures, ATI has applications designed for portable trailers that can be parked where they’re most needed, such as a beach area during the summer. “You can put a trailer in the beach parking lot and it can go to 120 decibels,” McLoughlin said. “You can hit a big red panic button,” and in about 12 seconds, the system will announce, “Clear the water.”
At a September Waterfront Festival Committee meeting, Quaak said she would like to see a public announcement system that could be used for large city events. As a retired public school teacher, she said grant funds often are available to help cover the cost.
“If we do have something loud going on, like a festival or parade or public events, which I hope we can return to at some point, you would not be able to hear those systems as set up at the courthouse and the airport,” Quaak said Friday.
“If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction and you’re standing between buildings, you can’t hear it,” she said.
This is likely due to problems with the current siren systems. During a weekly test, the 8th Street siren near the Menominee County Sheriff Department performed half of the four announcements and failed to rotate, according to city documents. The 22nd Street siren performed one of four announcements and failed to rotate. The 41st Avenue siren has open or “blown” speakers, despite the fact four speakers were replaced in June 2017 for $1,700.
The new tone and voice systems ATI offers are improved, McLaughlin said, and they work with other forms of communications. “Cellphones are great until they don’t work. And a lot of the older population doesn’t have them,” he said.
Quaak believes the city should be doing more to improve the communication systems. A public announcement system could be used for the Waterfront Festival, the Fourth of July, Family Fun Day and public concerts. “For emergency sake, for storms coming up, especially storms in the summer when we have those big events down there…we need a bigger broadcast. We don’t have a system like that,” Quaak said.
“When we are set up for those events, if there is a medical emergency, a lost child, it is very hard to get that information out to the public that may be in the area because we really don’t have a P.A. system for the park area and what is considered the festival area for this city,” Quaak said.
Ironically, how best to communicate the news about the proposed elimination of the siren system also was the subject of discussion at the Oct. 13th Public Safety/Public Works meeting.
“You can put it on the internet,” said committee member and third ward council member Dennis Klitzke. “What it’s going to affect most is the elderly people who may not have a smartphone and who read the newspaper.”
Klitzke suggested sending a message to citizens on water bills notifying people the city won’t be using emergency sirens. “It’s almost like you have to get a flier out in bright red stating, this is what’s happening,” he said.
The city also needs the public’s help in identifying street lights that are out. “We need to be more efficient. With less staff, we have to create other alternatives for the public to be able to assist us with issues,” Botbyl said. “We’re inundated with garbage complaints daily,” and someone has to explain the difference between waste and building materials.
“It would be nice if we had buttons on the website, where if you have a light issue, push here,” Botbyl said. “We’re running out of staff.”