Three of Port’s sirens are 50 years old, cost $23,000 each to replace
Port Washington’s northside tornado siren has sounded repeatedly over the past week — even though the weather has been calm — causing the police department to shut it down.
Crews originally determined a small portion of the telephone cable had gone bad, causing the siren to malfunction, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said Monday.
Repairs were made, but after the siren again sounded Monday night, crews were back in the city Tuesday working on the line, Hingiss said.
In addition to checking the errant siren, located on the Monroe Street grounds of the Port Washington-Saukville School District offices, the crews from AT&T were also inspecting the city’s other older sirens for potential issues, he said.
Hingiss said early Wednesday that the sirens were again being reactivated.
“According to AT&T, they’re fixed,” he said.
AT&T replaced a portion of the cable leading to the north-side siren and some of the wires at the south-side siren at the Ozaukee County Highway Department, Hingiss said. Mice had chewed through the wires there, he said.
The city’s issues with the warning system began when the northside siren went off unexpectedly twice on Friday night, Hingiss said. It rang again on Saturday, and also on Sunday morning.
“Then we shut it down,” Hingiss said.
A repair crew called in Monday morning discovered the issue “wasn’t with the siren itself but with the phone line,” he said.
A section of the cable between Heritage Nursing Home on Wisconsin Street and the tower had failed and was sporadically sending a signal to the siren to sound, Hingiss said.
The siren was put back on line late Monday morning, he said, but after it sounded again Monday night, the siren was again taken off line.
“Obviously that (repair) didn’t work,” Hingiss said.
It’s a frustrating situation, he said, noting the city often has an issue with the sirens in winter when they freeze up.
“We try and keep these to a minimum,” Hingiss said. “But things like this we can’t control.”
Hingiss pointed out that three of the city’s four tornado sirens are more than 50 years old.
“It’s pretty simple technology,” he said, noting they were originally installed as civil defense sirens, not weather warning sirens.
Today’s sirens don’t use phone lines but instead are set off using radio frequencies, Hingiss said.
They also have a battery backup so they can be set off even if the power fails, he said.
Only one of the city’s four sirens has been updated recently — the one on Wisconsin Street overlooking the police station and downtown, Hingiss said.
It was replaced at a cost of about $23,000 several years ago, he said.
“I thought that was the most important one (to replace) with all the events held downtown,” Hingiss said, noting he has asked that all the sirens be updated. “I know the city wants to eventually replace them all.”
The issue, however, is cost, he said.
“It’s a big chunk of money,” Hingiss said. “Obviously, it all depends on the budget.”
While the sirens are intended to warn residents of the possibility of a tornado and the need to take cover, Hingiss said residents shouldn’t be dependent on the sirens alone.
“Nothing’s foolproof,” he said.
Hingiss said he recommends residents get a weather radio, noting they are an inexpensive warning system.
Scott Ziegler, director of the Ozaukee County Division of Emergency Management, said NOAA weather radios usually cost between $25 and $45, adding he recommends homeowners buy one that plugs into an outlet but has a battery backup system.
Residents should then change the batteries in spring and fall, when they change their clocks, he said.
Ziegler also recommended that people sign up for a smart phone app that will notify them of weather watches and warnings.