Dallas warning system upgrade ready just in time

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by MONIKA DIAZ

WFAA

Posted on September 10, 2010 at 11:45 PM

DALLAS — When severe weather hit Dallas this week, the city faced its first tornado test as it activated its new high tech warning system.

The $3 million bond project to replace the city's aging sirens started nearly four years ago, but it was just finished this past June.

Emergency officials activated all of its new 150 sirens this past Wednesday. Around 55 of them were installed in the first six months of this year.

"We are still doing tweaking here and there," said Raymond Rivas, city emergency services specialist. "As far as any type of errors, there were probably a handful."

Rivas told News 8 that all the sirens worked — but he wasn't 100 percent satisfied. Hours after the city-wide activation, he started looking at making changes.

According to Rivas, the sirens were activated four times in 14 minutes. At times, the silence after each round lasted for several minutes and then the sirens went off again.

Rivas wants to lengthen each activation period. "[We are] looking at changing the timing, increasing it in actual events, so that we don't have to keep pressing the button to sound them, so they will sound continuously for a longer amount of time," he said.

He is also analyzing the tone of the sirens after reading some public feedback. Not everyone heard the city's message.

"In the coming months, we are going to try using different tones and see if it is better heard, because some cities have had better results by changing the tone," Rivas said.

The new system replaced a warning network that was nearly 50 years old. For decades, only 94 sirens covered the city.

The new system is also filling in the gaps were no sirens stood for years. One of those pockets was near the area hardest-hit by the tornado in West Dallas.

"The older system only covered about 80 percent of the city, so obviously there were some large gaps that that we found, portions that were not covered at all," Rivas said.

The city plans on installing one more siren. It will be located at Dallas Baptist University.

All of the old sirens are expected to be removed in the upcoming budget year.

The city tests the system the first Wednesday of every month at noon.

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com

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