Homer alert system tested

Posted: Friday, December 21, 2007

If you heard what sounded like a ginormous grandfather clock ringing from the Homer Spit over the weekend of Dec.8-9, you weren't alone. The eight-note chirp could be heard from downtown to up on Diamond Ridge and was followed by a voice message saying "This is a test." The tone came from five new siren towers installed in Homer, part of a new all-hazard alert broadcast system being built in Homer, Seward, Nanwalek, Port Graham and Seldovia.

Contractors were testing the system in Homer last week. The towers that look like a stack of flying saucers on a pole are up at the Homer harbor, the Homer Ice Rink and Mariner Park, all on the Spit, on Douglas Street and at Bishop's Beach. Another test was done at noon Dec. 12.

Built by Federal Signal Corp., the alert broadcast system was installed by Moreley Electric of Delta Junction for the Kenai Peninsula Borough. The project is being done in cooperation with the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The borough expects the system to be in full service by mid-January, said Scott Walden, coordinator for the borough Office of Emergency Management. The tone-alert part of the system is now working, and National Weather Service test alerts will be broadcast at noon Wednesday.

The new sirens have a wider range, Walden said.

"These sirens will be much different to the community than previously," he said.

The sirens are intended primarily for coastal tsunami warnings, but can be used to warn of floods, windstorms, volcanic activity even lost children. Along with programmable tones, the alert system can be used as a public-address system on all or any of the individual towers. 911 dispatchers can type in a message to be translated into voice.

If used, the alert siren would be followed by a pre-recorded voice message identifying the emergency and advising residents to tune in to local radio stations.

"The idea is to get people to pay attention immediately and pay attention to that message," Walden said.

"Hopefully, you'll never have to need it for anything, but it's there," added Kyle Kornelis, borough project manager.

The test tone will be different from the actual emergency tone. Programmers are working on which tones to use, and the borough will educate the public on test and emergency tones, Walden said.

Small, 24-volt wind generators recharge DC batteries on each tower if regular AC power is lost, Kornelis said. Alternating current also keeps the batteries charged.

Existing warning sirens will remain in service until the new system is installed and tested, Walden said.

"I think once the community adjusts to this new system, it's going to be much appreciated in each community," he said.

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