Familiar sirens to be silenced most Saturdays

Port officials OK plan to limit 1 p.m. emergency warning tests to one a month as part of plan to upgrade system by replacing two horns with new one

One of Port Washington's emergency warning sirens. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington will become a quieter place on the weekends this spring.

That’s because the tornado sirens, which traditionally sound at 1 p.m. Saturdays, will only be tested once a month, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss told the Police and Fire Commission last week.

Hingiss told the commission that his decision came after Ozaukee County Emergency Management Director Scott Ziegler sent out a study recommending that emergency sirens be tested less frequently.

Otherwise, according to Ziegler’s report, people get too used to them and don’t necessarily take them seriously when they sound, Hingiss reported.

So the Port departments will sound the sirens at 1 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month instead of weekly.

Hingiss said he will roll out the change “probably in the next couple of months.”

The study also recommended that the sirens not be sounded for festivals and special events, which Hingiss said will likely mean an end to having the sirens sound to announce the beginning of the Fish Day parade each year.

Key to the change is a proposal to replace two of the city’s south-side sirens with one.

Hingiss said the sirens near Dunwiddie Elementary School and the Ozaukee County Highway Department garage are roughly 60 years old and in need of updating.

American Signal, which has looked at the sirens, said one siren could replace the two, Hingiss said, adding the new siren could be located on city-owned land in the industrial park near the water tower.

While the existing towers are hooked up to telephone lines the department uses to sound the sirens, that wouldn’t be the case with the new one, Hingiss added.

Because the phone lines cost the city about $500 a month — even though the city’s other two sirens have been updated and are activated via a radio signal instead of the lines, they are interconnected and must be maintained — the siren would pay for itself in a little more than four years, he said.

The cost for the phone lines astounded commission members.

“I don’t understand,” Commission Chairman Rick Nelson said. “Five  hundred dollars for four lines every month — $500 is just staggering.”

Hingiss said the city has had significant issues with the sirens through the years. 

“We’ve had mice chew through the wires,” he said. “If we get an ice storm, the chain inside can freeze up and it won’t work. If the power goes down before a tornado comes, the sirens are down.”

The new sirens have a battery backup, Hingiss noted.

Because of all the issues with the existing sirens, weekly testing is important, he said.

“We had to or we wouldn’t know when we had issues,” he said. “But once we have new sirens in place, it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Hingiss said he’s been looking at updating the sirens for some time, and because the estimated $24,000 cost is several years old, he plans to get a new proposal from American Signal before the commission takes action on the issue.

There is a possibility the city could get a grant to offset at least part of the cost, he added.

But commission members were enthused about the idea of replacing the sirens.

“That sounds like a no-brainer,” commission member Jennifer Clearwater said.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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