Emergency sirens will be retested

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- Emergency sirens in Newton County will be re-tested next week to ensure they are working properly following a tornado that touched down near Newborn on Thursday morning.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan said the sirens were tested and updated this week prior to the storm and deemed operational by a communications company charged with maintaining the devices. However, "People have told me they did not hear the sirens," she said, while others have described them as barely audible.

Lisa Jackson, a resident who lives off Kirkland Road, said she's upset that she didn't hear any sirens or receive a warning from local government.

"I am disappointed as a taxpayer, not only because we did not receive any warning sirens, but at the very least a phone call," Jackson said. "What if something hit our area as in Tuscaloosa? God forbid, the county would be put on blast [be embarrassed] as in the case of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina."

There are 19 sirens scattered throughout the county. The sirens are activated at the 911 Center when a tornado warning is issued by the National Weather Service, said 911 Director Mike Smith. Thursday morning, they were activated at 12:41 a.m., he said.

"The problem is, when we push the button, we don't know if they've gone off," he said. "We have to assume they're going off."

The sirens continue until they are deactivated after the tornado warning expires, he said. The warning was also posted on the 911 Center's Facebook page.

Smith said not everyone may live in a location where they can hear the sirens.

"I can't hear them at my house. I walked outside my house and it was raining and the wind was blowing and I couldn't hear them," he said.

Tray Polk, director of Newton County Emergency Management Agency, said he's heard two people living in the same house give differing accounts, with one saying a siren could be heard and the other saying they couldn't hear it.

"As far as we know, they all did (go off)," he said.

The sirens can be heard only from a one-mile radius of where they are located.

"If you're sitting inside the house and it's thundering and lightning and you've got the TV going, you're not going to hear it. If you're outside on a clear sunny day and they're testing them at noon on a Wednesday, you're going to hear them," he said. "We tell people their best line of defense is to have a weather radio. That's the best system to let you know when severe weather is approaching."

Morgan said EMA will look into purchasing a system that will alert residents of severe weather via phone, but she said that may be costly. For a county the size of Newton, it could run as much as $50,000 a year, she said.

"It's not in the budget this year, but it's something we are going to be addressing with the Board of Commissioners," she said.

The Conyers-Rockdale Emergency Management Agency acquired earlier this year an emergency notification system called CodeRED that can warn residents and businesses of emergency situations by phone, cell phone, e-mail or text message. The system is sophisticated enough to direct emergency warnings countywide or to a single street. Citizens can register their phones, emails or text addresses by calling or emailing the sheriff's office.

The cost is $25,000 annually and the system is being funded entirely through a grant from the Georgia Emergency Management Administration.

News Editor Jay Jones contributed to this story.