County told emergency warnings in jeopardy

Published 12:07 pm Wednesday, October 27, 2010

If Warren County does not decide by Monday to upgrade facilities, it could lose a $100,000 grant to help in alerting residents of looming bad weather and other emergencies, Emergency Management Director Gwen Coleman has told supervisors.

“They need an answer by Nov. 1,” Coleman said of pre-disaster mitigation money on the table from the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency since January 2009.

Supervisors have explored using the money to help expand the CodeRED telephone notification system countywide. Currently, homes and businesses inside the City of Vicksburg register phone numbers to receive messages detailing weather warnings from the National Weather Service and city-issued alerts for emergencies like boil-water notices.

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For residents outside the city to participate in the warning system, the county would be required to spend about $13,500 after the grant. Supervisors have declined to allot the money, saying they had no indication enough county residents would participate to warrant the cost.

Initial talks centered on the county’s annual, post-grant costs, which had been whittled down to $13,500 in recent months with reimbursement of three-fourths of subscription costs if the county applies to use the grant as startup. About 5,960 phone numbers from inside the city have been registered to receive the phone messages since the city inked a contract in December 2008 with the service’s Florida-based provider, according to Vicksburg Emergency Management Director Anna Booth.

Of those, 806 have been signed up to receive only weather warnings, Booth said.

However, worries over the level of participation outside the city has kept county officials concerned it wouldn’t be worth the money over time, despite continued efforts to negotiate a good deal to include the city and county.

“We’re looking at other avenues that might be more beneficial than anything else,” Board President Richard George said, referring indirectly to $22,313 in grant money geared to upgrading emergency operations centers where local officials gather to coordinate responses to approaching hurricanes, snowstorms and other potential weather hazards.

Most likely upgrades to Warren County’s center in the basement of the courthouse wold be additional plug-ins for laptop computers and land line telephone outlets, Coleman said.

In most discussions concerning the grant money in the past 22 months, upgrades to the county’s 15 warning sirens have been ruled out due to cost. Repair costs on the four worst-performing sirens, put in place just after Grand Gulf Nuclear Station opened in 1985, have been estimated at more than $80,000, including activation costs.