BERLIN, Ala. – After much controversy surrounding its decision not to repair or replace the town’s tornado siren, the Berlin Town Council at a special meeting Monday night took the first steps toward obtaining weather radios for people within the siren’s range.
Mayor Patrick Bates told the council that the news of the siren’s retirement had been met with a few complaints. “We had some people call us (the town hall and the fire department) to complain about the siren being shut down, but for the most part those people had missed the part where we said we’d try to get radios for the people in the siren’s range. That seemed to take the edge off for a lot of those callers,” he explained. “We actually got a lot more complaints about the siren being operational! People don’t realize that the EMA (Cullman Emergency Management Agency) makes the decision to set off the sirens, not us, and they set off all the sirens no matter where a tornado is in the county.”
Bates presented the council with a proposed radio model – a Midland WR120 Weather Alert Radio. The radios have battery-powered backup systems in the event of a power outage and are programmable for a variety of weather alerts. According to the information sheet provided at the meeting, the radios also include features such as
- English, Spanish and French alert languages
- access to all seven NOAA weather channels
- stores up to 10 previously-received hazardous weather alerts
- time display and alarm clock
- choice of three warning systems: 90 dB Siren Alarm, Flashing LED or Voice Alert
- color-coded alert level indicators
- over 60 emergency alerts
Bates said he felt that these radios will be an improvement compared to the siren as people can program them to alert about tornado warnings in their specific area (or they can opt in to alerts about tornado watches as well) in addition to weather hazards that normally wouldn’t set of the sirens.
“These sirens don’t go off for severe thunderstorm warnings,” Bates stated, “but when you look at all the damage we’ve had over the past couple of years, a majority of it was from storms that were ruled to be severe thunderstorms at first. Even when they were later found to be tornadoes, they were considered thunderstorms at first and so the sirens never went off. But with these radios, people can program them to go off for severe thunderstorms, so they’ll get that warning.”
Another advantage that the radios have over the siren is the presence of multiple failsafes if something happens to the Cullman signal transmitter. “The sirens only have the one siren transmitter here in Cullman, but these radios can get signals from radio towers in Cullman, Oneonta, Arab and Huntsville,” Bates stated. “In fact, when I tested it in my home earlier, I was able to configure my radio to get signals from both the Cullman tower and the Oneonta tower.”
On the method for distribution, Bates turned to Berlin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Ralph Laney for his input. “We’ll probably do something similar to when we got the grant to hand out the smoke alarms – we had people come to the station with their light bills and show proof that they paid dues to the Berlin fire department,” Laney said. “We had some folks come up and show that they paid to Holly Pond or somewhere else, and we had to turn them away. Those folks got pretty mad, but we told them we could only provide to people who fell under our jurisdiction, and I think that the radio distribution will have to do something similar.”
This proposal will help distribute more radios to people within the siren’s range, as the town council would only have been able to hand out radios to people living inside Berlin town limits, but the fire department can provide the radios to everyone in its coverage area.
On how many radios to purchase, Bates estimated that roughly 600-800 households might be within the siren’s range. However, the fact that many households may already have radios of their own was brought up, in addition to the fact that some sirens overlapped the area of the Berlin siren. With just under 250 households in the town limits, the council settled on giving the fire department enough money to purchase 250 radios (an amount that came out to $6,225) with a request that the Cullman County Community Development Commission (CCCDC) match its payment, giving the fire department enough money for 500 radios to distribute to residents within its jurisdiction. The council and the fire department agreed that this number would be a good starting point, and more radios could be purchased in the future if needed.
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