Rural Johnson County areas to receive tornado sirens

BY BRIAN ALBERT | JUNE 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Residents of Johnson County who don’t live in an incorporated town likely won’t hear the possibly lifesaving wail of a tornado alarm under the current weather-siren layout, officials worry.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan, along with Johnson County Emergency Management Director Dave Wilson, noticed this problem while studying siren-coverage maps of the county.

Incorporated cities such as Iowa City, Coralville, Solon, and Tiffin are well-covered, they said, but several rural villages are “woefully unprotected.”

So this year, the Board of Supervisors made a commitment to establish more sirens, which cost between $15,000 and $25,000 each, at crucial locations throughout the county.

“Over the next five years, we would like to implement six new sirens at various locations around the county,” Wilson said. “Based on the present economy, we’re probably looking at realistically buying one a year, and we would of course have to double up one of those years to meet our goal.”

The sirens will be located in areas of higher population to maximize their efficiency, he added.

“We need to aid these places that have 50, 100, 200 people,” Sullivan said. “These sirens will protect schools, camps, parks — basically places where many people are likely to congregate.”

Once installed, the new wireless sirens require virtually no routine maintenance, Sullivan said.

“We’ll need to check and possibly replace the batteries every three to five years, but other than that we won’t need to do much in the way of service,” Wilson said.

Prior to 2008, rural siren coverage in Johnson County did not exist. A siren has since been placed in Frytown, an area home to 150 people. Frytown also holds Yoder’s Auction House, which on a busy day might see 300 or more people, Sullivan said.

The next siren will provide disaster warning coverage to Joetown, a village of between 50 and 100 residents. It will also serve the Iowa Mennonite High School and its 140 students.

“Washington Township Elementary is right there too,” Sullivan said. “That’s another 100-plus kids we can protect.”

The Joetown siren will be purchased and installed in July.

Supervisor Janelle Rettig said the sirens should bring protection to those who really need it.

“You have not only the Amish, who don’t have radios or televisions, but there are also major recreation areas like state parks and campgrounds,” Rettig said. “I think the chosen locations are great areas to focus on. It’s not really going to help too much if they’re in areas with just one or two houses.”

Though the sirens are expensive and the timeline for completion is long, Sullivan said, this is a commitment he’s willing to undertake.

“I’ve been working on this for quite some time, but we’re starting to get there,” he said. “I think several rural residents will be able to feel safer as a result.

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