Sunday, December 12, 2010

From sirens to e-alerts in Cedar Park

Updated: Wednesday, 08 Dec 2010, 7:03 PM CST
Published : Wednesday, 08 Dec 2010, 6:45 PM CST

CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) - Shortly after the F-5 Jarrell tornado brewed smaller twisters in Cedar Park causing mass damage, city leaders scrambled to find a way to tell its residents that something dangerous was coming. They came up with tornado sirens. In 1997, three of them were installed. Sirens have sounded about 10 times in the last decade and they rang for the last time this spring.?

This summer, Assistant Fire Chief James Mallinger recommended City Council vote to take them down. Council agreed with little opposition. Mallinger told Council the system is outdated, inefficient and doesn't reach all Cedar Park residents in an emergency.

"The sirens can only be heard from about a mile and a half away and you have to be outdoors to hear them," said Cedar Park communications director Jennie Huerta.

"Obviously the sirens aren't working," said resident James Bowie. "The last tornado, I didn't even hear anything, to be honest with you, and I live down the street."

Then there was the cost:? $300,000 to upgrade and purchase another 10 sirens.

Council is now looking at a less expensive option: e-Alerts costing approximately $25-$35,000 a year. Council is also searching for grants to help pay for the new system.

"Technology has changed so much in the past 10 years that we feel there are other better ways to notify people," said Huerta.

Better ways, like text messaging, e-mails, and reverse emergency calls at home. It's part of an advance-technology upgrade that officials believe will save lives in an instant.

City Council is exploring two systems: BlackBoard Connect and Red Alert system.

Recently the University of Texas was heralded for its use of an e- alert system. Text messages were sent to thousands of staff and students alerting them of a gunman on campus. Cedar Park's system would work much the same.

For now, Cedar Park's tornado sirens are still perched on top of wooden poles.

City officials are still in the planning stages of the project. Residents could see changes sometime in 2011.


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