Tri-Village News

EMA suggests Marble Cliff upgrade its tornado siren

Village may risk failure with outdated system; mayor says $5,000 cost could strain budget


The need to help respond to local questions and concerns following the April 15 bombing during the Boston Marathon forced Franklin County Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Pannell to reschedule his planned appearance that evening before Marble Cliff Village Council.

Another tragedy -- the tornado that devastated Moore, Okla. -- served as a backdrop to the discussion when Pannell attended the May 20 council meeting.

Pannell was on hand to answer council members' questions about why the village would be financially responsible for about $5,000 needed to make improvements to the control panel on the county emergency warning siren located at Our Lady of Victory Church, 1559 Roxbury Road.

Warning sirens are expected to be heard within a one-mile radius, Pannell told council.

The church has been the location of the siren at least as far back as the 1950s, when a Thunderbolt siren -- a Cold War-era system -- was installed, he said.

"It was smack-dab in the middle of your village," Pannell said.

A updated siren system was installed at Our Lady of Victory in the early 1990s, he said.

The Marble Cliff siren now serves a population of about 17,000 who live within the one-mile radius, Pannell said.

The village is one of only two Franklin County communities that have the 1990s-era siren, and the manufacturer stopped making parts for the system around 2001, he said.

The $5,000 would purchase a kit with a control system and other parts that would help ensure the siren would continue to operate effectively, Pannell said.

If the village chose not to purchase the kit or buy a new siren, it would risk a breakdown of the system, and replacement parts are difficult to obtain for the old siren, he said.

The EMA has some parts in its inventory and a network of resources around the nation, but at some point, as with an old car, replacement parts would no longer be available, Pannell said.

Buying a new siren would cost about $20,000, he said.

Under the system in place in the county, a jurisdiction is financially responsible for paying the cost of buying or upgrading its sirens, Pannell said. A jurisdiction can decide whether it wants a siren.

For a village as small as Marble Cliff, even a $5,000 expenditure represents a number of budget line items, Mayor Kent Studebaker said.

Pannell said he understands the village's situation, although he would recommend purchasing the kit rather than taking the chance that parts would not be available in case of a breakdown.

The village could decide not to buy the kit or wait a year or two to make the purchase, he said.

There have been no problems with the village's siren and no reason to expect it could break down any time soon, Pannell said.

"It's just my duty to tell you if we have a catastrophic failure (of the siren), we'd have to replace the entire system," he said, adding he couldn't guarantee parts would be available for Marble Cliff's siren.

Council is expected to continue its discussion and decide whether to appropriate the money to purchase the kit at its June meeting.