Siren call for grounds

In an effort to find a more efficient and effective means for notifying fairgoers of an imminent weather emergency, city and county leaders decided to move forward with placing a tornado warning siren closer to the Auglaize County Fairgrounds.

“The last couple years, there have been weather emergencies during the fair and there was no quick way to get the information out,” Auglaize County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Troy Anderson said.

He said placing another warning siren closer to the property should help campers and fair attendees to hear the sirens better and give them more time to seek proper shelter.

“When you look at the activities there throughout the year, this is the best thing we could do,” Anderson said of the fairgrounds, which are rented out for events year round. “This is something that is needed, not just during the fair.”

The closest of four city tornado warning sirens to the fairgrounds currently is on Hamilton Street near the Wapakoneta WaterPark and can barely be heard by those on the fairgrounds, often because of the direction of the wind, Anderson explained.

While city, county and fair officials have yet to decide on the best place to put a new siren, they decided Thursday to proceed with purchasing one to be paid for completely by 2010 Homeland Security Grant funding.

The $21,000 for the siren and a battery backup in case the area is without power. The money previously had been earmarked for another project, but after it was denied at the state level several times, Anderson said they wanted to move forward with something else, from which the whole county could benefit.

“When we do grants, we try to look at the number of people we are benefiting and steer toward what would help the most,” Anderson said.

A major concern in placing the siren is considering where it would both be most effective and not cause any other problems by unexpectedly scaring some of the large livestock shown by youth at the fairgrounds several different times throughout the year.

“The last thing we want to have happen is the warning siren kicks on, alarms everyone and frightens a 1,300-pound steer,” county Commissioner Doug Spencer said.

Fairgrounds Manager Fred Piehl said the same type of situation could happen with a youngster on a horse.

Two possible locations for the siren to be placed are the new Wapakoneta Water Treatment Plant on Schaub Road or near the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office on Dearbaugh Avenue.

In addition to emergency weather warnings, the siren also would sound at noon the first Saturday of each month for a test.

Commissioner Don Regula said he has concerns about the monthly test. He said when a storm is approaching people know to be on the lookout, but a warning wouldn’t be as anticipated for those on the fairgrounds where the weather might be sunny and nice.

“We need them, but I don’t want anybody to get hurt just because we’ve got them,” Regula said.

Piehl suggested one thing to consider is whether the siren would be louder closer to where it is positioned or farther away.

He said another concern with a siren would be the possible mass exodus of people from the grounds at one time.

Wapakoneta Safety-Service Director Bill Rains said from the city’s perspective, installing another siren at no cost to warn residents is a great thing.

He said the city would be willing to put the siren on any property it owns and can get power to it because it would be non-intrusive sitting a top of a pole.

Wherever it is positioned in the area of the fairgrounds, the siren, which rotates 360 degrees while it sounds and runs for 3 minutes before powering down and coming back on, also would provide added warning to apartments, trailers and homes in the area, too.

Sheriff Al Solomon said in the past deputies worked with the county EMA on the grounds in the past and used information from the National Weather Service to do what they could to notify those at the fairgrounds of emergency situations. Typically, they traveled throughout the grounds on golf carts warning residents and also have woken campers up in the past to advise them to seek shelter.

“There is always a need for notification,” Solomon said. “The more notification we have the better residents can be aware of imminent weather emergencies and prepare.”