EMA director softens proposal on siren system

J. H. Osborne • Jul 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - A proposal to install a countywide emergency siren system in Sullivan County has been amended, striking any mention of funding - or, for that matter, actual installation.

Several weeks ago, Sullivan County's emergency management director asked county commissioners to consider putting money in this fiscal year's budget to begin installing the system.

As the proposal worked its way through the County Commission's committee process, commissioners told Emergency Management Agency Director Jerry Fleenor they'd like to see city governments join the county in funding the system.

Fleenor's original proposal asked the county to budget $180,000 per year, for six years, to cover the cost of a countywide system. Fleenor said he planned to ask the cities to contribute to the effort, and that anything they contributed would reduce the amount of county funding actually spent each year.

Commissioners suggested Fleenor was showing the county's hand, however, by asking for all the money up front.

Fleenor said the issue might be one of the things where city folk say "that's what we pay county taxes for."

City residents pay both city and county property taxes.

The issue was on the full commission's agenda as old business last month. It was deferred.

On Monday, Fleenor introduced an amended version of the proposal as it begins its second round of committee meetings.

Now it calls only for study and development of a plan for a countywide emergency management system.

Fleenor has said the goal is to make sure there are enough sirens to saturate all areas of the county - including the cities of Kingsport, Bristol and Bluff City.

Sirens might be viewed as a throwback to the 1940s or 1950s, Fleenor said when he first raised the issue, but their simplicity can sometimes trump modern technology.

"They are still probably the most efficient way to tell a lot of people in a short time that something bad is coming," Fleenor said last month.

Two well-known emergency notification methods and potential gaps - which could be filled with sirens - were outlined by Fleenor:

•Televised announcements: Only residents watching television and tuned to the right channels will get the message. Fleenor said many households today are not necessarily watching local broadcasts or even local cable feeds.

•Reverse 911: Even with multiple lines making the outgoing calls, it takes time to reach a large number of people, and it's not unusual for people to have their telephones ring straight to voice mail.

Positives Fleenor mentioned about a countywide siren system included:

•The sirens could be activated off of the countywide 800 megahertz radio system used by county and city law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

•That technology would allow any or all of the sirens to be activated for any particular emergency - whether one siren needed to be sounded for an incident in a single neighborhood, or whether every resident in the county needed to be alerted of a situation.

The Sullivan County Commission's Budget Committee is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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