When the skies grow dangerous next spring, McPherson residents will have the protection of five new sirens warning them of severe weather.


When the skies grow dangerous next spring, McPherson residents will have the protection of five new sirens warning them of severe weather.
The McPherson City Commission voted on Monday to purchase five modern sirens at a total cost of $138,907.45. The new units will replace eight aging units that together warn an area from Avenue A and the 81 Bypass to Kansas Avenue and Interstate 135 of dangerous conditions. Some of the sirens, like the one found downtown, are so antiquated that they can only alert a few square blocks. The devices will not only cover more area with fewer units but also will be supported by battery back-up systems that will allow emergency notification in the event a storm interrupts power.
“The time has come,” said Nick Gregory, city administrator. “We’ve had a number of issues with sirens failing, and some of the units are around 50 years old.”
Gregory said during recent tests of the siren system, three units had failed, requiring repair. Two of the units are back in service while the other remains inoperable.
“We’ve had one of them fail almost every time we test them anymore,” Gregory said.
In addition, Gregory said McPherson County Emergency Communications, which triggers the sirens in the event of inclement weather, was upgrading the radio system that controls the sirens.
Four of the new units will be installed in the same location as existing units, while a new site will be constructed for the fifth on Avenue A near Hickory Street. The three existing sirens will be updated to enable compatibility with the new narrow-band radio control system.
Darren Frazier, director of McPherson County Emergency Communications, said the need to upgrade was no surprise.
“Narrow-banding really started in the early (1990s),” Frazier said. “In the 2000s, the feds started getting pretty serious about it and eventually they gave a deadline” for the conversion of emergency communications.
That deadline, which was been set by the Federal Communications Commission as Jan. 1, 2013, is the latest that emergency agencies across the nation can broadcast over long-utilized 25 kHz channels. Frazier said those unfunded regulations were a prominent force necessitating the city’s upgrades.
While the city has tried for several years to obtain a grant for the project, Gregory said no financial assistance had presented itself, requiring large general fund expenditures on the project.
“(The McPherson City Commission) has been looking for grant money for a long time,” Frazier said, a problem his agency can relate to. McPherson County Emergency Communications has been soliciting grants for years in an effort to fund upgrades of its own system and renovations to its building. Last week, a surprise donation provided the money necessary to make his department’s changes.
The city likely will be less fortunate.
Gregory said the commission was right in deciding to upgrade such critical equipment, even with its significant price tag.
“We set aside some money, even if it wasn’t quite this much,” Gregory said. “The time to act is here.”