CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It was the sound heard around Putnam County Wednesday at noon -- a loud, steady tone from one of its five new disaster-warning sirens, which have been installed across the county.It was the first of the county's routine monthly tests of the towers, which happen the fourth Wednesday of every month.According to Frank Chapman, director of Putnam County's Emergency Management Services, the siren sound emitted by the state-of-the-art towers can travel up to a mile, adding another useful tool for emergency management in the county."The big thing we want people to understand is that these things are going to be loud, and they're going to be noticeable," Chapman said.There are more than 55 disaster-warning sirens located throughout Kanawha and Putnam counties. The five in Putnam County are at the courthouse in Winfield, the city park in Eleanor, Hurricane City Hall, the Poca Volunteer Fire Department and near the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department. Like nearly half of the existing disaster sirens in the Kanawha Valley, the warning sirens are able to give voice messages and instruction to listeners."In the event of a natural disaster, a man-made disaster, a chemical leak or something like that, we can activate these sirens, which are specifically designed to alert outdoor population," Chapman said. "Once someone hears the siren, they're prompted to go inside and turn on a radio or a TV and get any information we have put out as far as where shelters are, or about the disaster itself."During a test of the sirens, each will emit a sustained alarm followed by a prerecorded message and another alarm. The message will tell listeners it is a test of the system, but Chapman said that in the event of a disaster, EMS could program the sirens to let people know where they can go for supplies or aid.Chapman said he believes the sirens would have come in handy during the derecho that swept the area last summer, because each siren can be individually operated by EMS in Putnam or Kanawha County, and can give information in real time."These sirens operate on batteries, and they have voice capabilities, so although they might not have been instrumental in notifying people the storm was coming -- it came at such a high rate that even the [National Weather Service] was caught off guard -- we would have been able to tell people afterward where supplies were, water, where they can find more information," he said.
The sirens, which cost between $32,000 and $36,000 each, were built using part of a 2010 West Virginia Regional Resilience Assessment Program Grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.According to Larry Zuspan, administrator of the Kanawha/Putnam Emergency Planning Committee, the siren portion of the grant was $732,000 and helped to build the five Putnam County sirens, as well as 17 similar sirens in Kanawha County."Fifteen years ago, they had just 'tone sirens' all across the valley, from Belle to Nitro," Zuspan said. "The reason we had those sirens was mainly because of the chemical manufacturing facilities we had across the valley floor. Whenever there was a chemical emergency, those sirens would go off, and when local residents heard them, they would know to go inside, turn their television or radio on and wait for additional information."Zuspan said the added voice capability of the new sirens has made them a superior warning tool to the older sirens, and he hopes that more sirens will mean a safer area in the event of a disaster."The migration path now is to get more of those voice sirens through the valley floor," he said.In addition to the Putnam county sirens, there are two sirens in Charleston, as well as sirens in Dunbar, Glasgow, Kanawha City, Montgomery, Yeager Airport, and other areas.
"These sirens are very, very loud, and they are a wonderful tool to have in your emergency-management tool pouch," Zuspan said. "The emergency managers can set any one of these sirens off during a disaster -- let's say something is going on in Montgomery, they can set just that one siren off and speak into that siren with a message if they needed to."For more information on the disaster warning sirens or other emergency preparedness programs in Putnam and Kanawha counties, visit www.kpepc.org
.Reach Lydia Nuzum at email@example.com or 304-348-5189.