Hoping to see a plan that might provide more residents with the ability to hear emergency warning sirens, City Council voted 6-0 to postpone a decision on the issue.
Washtenaw County Emergency Planning Coordinator Ben Pinette appeared before city council to go over a plan to replace the city’s two existing emergency warning sirens with three new sirens.
The existing sirens are located behind city hall and on school property at Woodland Drive and North Maple Road. Pinette said former Police Chief Paul Bunten had been working with the county on a plan to provide better emergency warning coverage for Saline. Residents on the city’s west side are out of range of the existing sirens, he said. The county recommended a plan to keep one of the sirens near Woodland Drive and Maple Road and to add a new siren where Austin Drive dead ends near Michigan Avenue. The third siren, according to the county, would be placed between city hall and the fire station, or at Old Creek Drive and Henry Street. Pinette said he was recommending the city hall/fire hall site.
Rather than discuss the placement of the third siren, members of council questioned the placement of the northern siren at Maple Road and Woodland Drive.
“Looking at the coverage map, a portion of the west side of the city is not covered. If a new siren was move a bit west, then perhaps we could cover that portion and still reach the edge of the city on the east side,” suggested council member David Rhoads.
Pinette said moving the tower east could be difficult because the tower must be located next to a power transformer. He said it might have to go all the way to Ann Arbor Street, which would leave gaps on the northeast section of the city.
Answering a question from council member Brian Marl, Pinette said there were no sirens in Lodi Township that serve the western edge of the city.
Council member James Roth said the county plan would leave about 250 residents outside the range of the sirens. He said losing coverage of some of the industrial park to cover those residents might make more sense.
Council member Jim Peters suggested that the county explore whether it’s possible to reconfigure the locations in order to achieve better coverage.
“I think we should take one more look at it to see if we can cover that neighborhood,” Peters said.
Marl agreed. He added that thought it was important the city maintain the ability to activate the sirens.
Currently, the city’s police dispatchers activate the sirens. The city has tested the sirens at noon on Saturday. The county tests on the first Saturday of the month from May through September and would not be able to reproduce weekly tests. Pinette said the county will want the ability to activate the sirens. He said except for Saline, Milan and Ann Arbor, the county operates all of Washtenaw’s sirens. Sirens in Chelsea can be activated by the county and the city.
Pinette said it would cost about $2,400-$3,000 to give create dual-activation access for the three sirens.
Council member Linda TerHaar said she would like input of the Saline Police Department before making a decision.
City manager Todd Campbell said someone from the police department could speak to the issue at the July 23 meeting.
Pinette told council that the county worked with former Police Chief Paul Bunten on the issue. The new sirens are being funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, although pay about $1,500 annually in maintenance costs.
Pinette said that besides power considerations, health issues are also considered when sirens are placed. For example, a siren would not be placed directly in front of a two-story home.
Pinette also said that it wasn't possible to purchase sirens with a wider coverage range.
Sirens are activated when significant severe weather has been detected (a tornado or a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds confirmed to be in excess of 70 MPH), when a hazardous materials accident occurs that requires immediate protective action by the public, or for other critical events such homeland security emergencies according to the county.