23 May 2013

"Early" warning system....from the 1950s



One day I was lamenting with a fellow progressive that I was tired of consistently hitting brick walls.  To which she said "let me tell you a story".   One day an old man died and went to heaven and God said "well done".  "Well done?!" the man asked emphatically.  The old tired soul said, "God you asked me to push on that big boulder, and I did my whole life, but it never moved an inch."  To which God said "I never told you to move the boulder, only to push on it".

And that maybe sums up a great deal of my life's efforts.  Particularly my time on city council.  While watching much of the effort from four years of devotion undone, there were a few things that couldn't be, thankfully, because the wheels had been set in motion.  Granted, the guys who came after me got the credit....but to heck with the credit.  The results are the reward.

I am reminded of one of those rewards every time I see another devastating tornado, like the one that occurred in Moore, Oklahoma this week.  After the Evansville tornado in 2005 which claimed 25 lives-many in a mobile home park, I began to investigate our own early warning system.  It was an outdated siren, a technological relic of the Cold War, which had served River City as a warning for fires, air raids, and a noon whistle (gotta love that) along with its use for tornado warnings.  The unfortunate situation was that the siren's audible reach was limited to a fairly small ring around the downtown-which may have been fine for 1950s municipal boundaries, but not for a city that had more than doubled its geographical boundaries, and was now ringed with subdivisions.  To make matters worse was the exceptionally high number of mobile home parks that were part of the city, most lying outside of the siren's reach.

So I presented an idea to the city council that an "Emergency Strategy for the Unprotected" or ESU be developed over the course of 2006.  The ESU addressed issues ranging from hazardous chemical spills either by rail or highway cargo, identification of homes prone to flooding (River City gets its name honestly), and most importantly-our ability to warn residents of dangerous weather.  I met with individuals responsible for city and county emergency response and formulated a basic game plan for addressing several areas where the city was lacking.  Interestingly enough, it seemed that training our own haz-mat team wasn't cost efficient based on our infrequent need; however, within a year after the report there had been two hazardous chemical spills in or near River City.  Regarding flooding, the recommendation was to complete the buyout of homes in flood-prone areas which had begun during the 1980s.  A master plan for a downtown park helped push post-ESU buyouts; however, there are still a handful of homes and even a small mobile home park that is likely off the city's radar.  Two or three of the homes have water inside the homes on a consistent basis with flooding.


Exhibit C-mobile home parks and high density apartment complexes in the city

But the crux of the report centered on our woefully inadequate tornado warning system.  Based on review of several available systems, and learning that most cities and towns within a 50 mile radius of River City had already updated their warning system, the recommendation for a system of new sirens posted around the city was logical.  Two maps were included in the report-one to show where our highest densities of unprotected residents were located, and one to show recommended placement of new sirens to achieve the most coverage with spill-over for our non-resident, non-taxpaying community members.  But the report didn't stop there-it also addressed the need to have some form of designated safe places for residents without adequate shelter.  The South Bend Tribune found the story of some interest and interviewed a resident of one of the city's largest mobile home parks that contains upward of 10% of the city's population.  Featured on the front page, she pointed toward a shallow swale along an old railroad bed that she would take cover with her family.  My intention was to begin a dialogue about where residents in harm's way might find shelter.......of course, mobile home park and apartment building owners believed the intention was to force them to build adequate shelters.  God forbid!  And being that they were politically connected, it didn't fare well for my re-election campaign in 2007.  Thankfully, what did occur out of this was the requirement for any new mobile home park to have an emergency shelter for its residents.


Exhibit D-recommended new siren coverage
The new early warning system was budgeted in 2007 for implementation in 2008.  After both my and the administration's ouster in the 2007 election I wasn't feeling so confident that the new administration was as committed to the new system.  As 2008 began to come to a close I mentioned to a good friend who sat on the Council that it really was important, politics aside, to get the new sirens in place for public safety especially since it had been budgeted for 2008 and wasn't budgeted for 2009-which would mean waiting until 2010 at the earliest before it could be implemented again.  Whether or not there was any thought that not doing the project could be politically challenging, I don't know, but thankfully and ultimately, the project was completed. 

I remember the first time I heard the sirens being tested.....it brought a smile to my face as if it were music to my ears.  While I hope that River City never experiences a tornado, there is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that if it did, the new system may just save lives.  I'm not typically complimentary to the subsequent administration-but kudos on this one.

4 comments:

JIm said...

Clearly, politics is a very long game, where you have to count the small victories to stay sane. But a good tornado warning system is a very important victory, one of which I hope you feel considerable pride.

Anonymous said...

you mean the sirens that are barely audible on the west side of town?

hoosier reborn said...

Which is why they shouldn't have skimped and instead gone with the original recommendation (see map).

HR

Anonymous said...

So are you telling me that a city that is sitting on somewhere in the neighborhood of 24 Million dollars went CHEAP on a system to warn its citizens, certainly not?!