Future of Jefferson County tornado sirens up in the air

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - The escalating cost of tornado sirens in Jefferson County is raising questions about the alarm system's future.

For decades, tornado warning sirens have been a way to warn people that a weather threat is approaching.

"These are outdoor sirens. These are for outdoor places. We don't want anyone relying on these inside their house or inside their car. You simply can't hear them," Jim Coker, the Director of the Jefferson Co. EMA said.

At this time, there are 254 tornado warning sirens in Jefferson County. It costs the EMA an average of more than $100,000 for yearly maintenance. The cost of repairing and replacing them would be even higher.

"Over time, the sirens might be phased out because they were meant and created back in the 30's to be outdoor warnings," Joe Knight, Jefferson County Commissioner said.

Possible solutions include turning the sirens over to Jefferson County cities from EMA and let them maintain and pay for the cost of repairs. The other possibility is to up the fees cities pay to participate and support EMA. That cost now is $1.33 for each citizen in the city.

"The big expense on a siren is a replacement or if something breaks, if you have a lightning strike or if you have vandalism, stripping out wiring - things like that," Knight said.

Talks are continuing with cities about a possible solution. "This is one tool in the warning toolbox. We want you to have multiple tools," Coker said.

Coker continues to encourage people to have multiple ways of getting your weather warnings including email, phone calls, and weather radios. He says don't depend on sirens or just one method.

Coker plans to meet and discuss again with mayors about ways to cover the cost of the sirens later this month.

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