Elfer pinpoints money for emergency-alert funding

Published 11:28 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Emergency Management Director John Elfer says he’s found a funding source that would expand the CodeRed alert system countywide.

Half of a $6,000 cut the county receives annually from Entergy Nuclear to participate in drills that simulate evacuations from Grand Gulf Nuclear Station could be used to finance a deal worth $15,000 annually with CodeRed to bring the phone and text message service to county residents.

“We can use a portion of that money to fund CodeRed,” Elfer told the county board Monday, adding the $3,000 cut can be combined with funds in the budget for his office originally eyed to hire additional staff. “(The price) is still $15,000 and some change.”

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The system would allow residents outside the city to register for the first time to receive warnings of approaching bad weather or industrial accidents. A clause has been added to a working draft of a contract that would allow the county to opt out in the second year if officials deem it too expensive for the overall budget.

Sirens erected in the 1980s to warn of serious emergencies at the nuclear plant are inoperable and stand idle at 16 sites in Vicksburg and Warren County, mostly south of Interstate 20. Replacement costs have been pegged at $75,000 or more, with no takers besides the Road Department to take them down, Elfer said.

No firm direction came Monday. Board President Bill Lauderdale, who has taken heat from the public in recent weeks for his statements on the issue, stuck to a script of having consistent dollars and cents for the voluntary program.

“It’s about having a reliable funding source,” Lauderdale said. “How are you going to pay for it?”

District 5 Supervisor Richard George supported redirecting money from the EMA personnel budget for CodeRed.

“It’s not like we’re talking about a million dollars,” he said in response to Lauderdale.

Since 2008, the city has contracted with Florida-based Emergency Communications Network to enact the CodeRed system locally. Modifications made last year allow people to choose specific emergencies for which they want either a phone call or text message.

CodeRed has 1,241 participants in Vicksburg, based on recent inquiries, Elfer said. It includes about 240 who have signed up since March 21, when an EF-2 tornado touched down in the southern part of the county along with damaging straight-line winds that downed trees and power lines.