CodeRed best buy for county warnings, Elfer tells supervisors

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The price tag for Warren County to buy into the same emergency warning system used for addresses inside Vicksburg city limits has gone up in the past two years, but remains the best alternative to warning sirens, the county’s top emergency management official said Monday.

Emergency Management Director John Elfer told the Warren County Board of Supervisors that CodeRed would cost the county $15,000 annually if enacted today.

The system would allow residents outside the city to register for the first time to receive warnings of approaching bad weather or industrial accidents

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The cost represents a $1,500 jump since 2010, but less than the $20,000 it could cost to replace each of the 16 warning sirens the county owns. None has worked or been tested audibly for about two years.

Sirens sit atop poles at 16 sites in Vicksburg and Warren County, mostly south of Interstate 20. All but one at Eagle Lake were erected in the 1980s to warn of serious emergencies at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station in Claiborne County.

Elfer said CodeRed would be a low-cost way to alert more locals.

“If we went with a system that would give a phone notification, we could knock it all out in one thing,” Elfer told supervisors, who had sought fresh information after an EF-2 tornado was reported in south Warren County on March 21 and brought attention to the idle sirens. “We wouldn’t have to buy any equipment and we wouldn’t be responsible for any maintenance.”

Since 2008, the city has contracted with Florida-based Emergency Communications Network to enact the CodeRed system locally. Last year, the deal was adjusted to allow people to choose which specific emergencies for which they’d receive a call. The system has about 1,200 participants in Vicksburg.

Initial startup costs for weather alerts alone could be as low as $12,500, Elfer said, based on talks with the company. Costs are tied to population, he said.

Another service, Baton Rouge-based FirstCall, uses text messages almost exclusively, which wouldn’t allow people to register a landline, he said. Elfer made the message personal for supervisors, who’ve for several years cited cost for not replacing the old sirens with newer technology.

“If somebody lived in the city in your district, but they taught school at Bovina Elementary, they could sign up for both addresses,” Elfer said, adding a system could be set up within “four or five days” after a contract is signed.

Repairing the horns and controllers would cost at least $75,000, he said.

“That’s to repair what we already have. That wouldn’t cover Bovina, that wouldn’t cover Fisher Ferry, it wouldn’t cover Redwood. We probably need to have 45 to 55 additional sites to cover the whole county,” Elfer said.

Opinions on the board varied whether or if they’ll tap taxpayer dollars to enact any kind of warning system.

“You can get plenty of weather stuff,” Board President Bill Lauderdale said. “Heck, any idiot can turn a TV on or get a weather radio,” he said.

District 5 Richard George expressed less concern than in the past about participation levels not exceeding expectations. District 3 Supervisor Charles Selmon agreed.

“It’s not about participation. It’s about giving citizens an option — something other than nothing.”

“If they didn’t have any options,” Lauderdale countered, “I’d agree with you. But, right now, they’ve got options.”