It was the sound heard around Putnam County Wednesday, July 24 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.
(The Charleston Gazette)