By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
MELVINDALE – Following the July 2 evacuation due to the DTE natural gas explosion, the Public Safety Commission discussed siren tones and updating resident emergency warning systems at its July 12 meeting.
Police Chief Chad Hayse said the current siren, which is older, can make several different tones.
“The current one just goes off,” Hayse said. “There is a way to make that go higher and lower, which I suggested you could use for snow emergencies.”
He said the different tone could alert people to get vehicles off the street to allow plows to clear the roads. He said it was designed to serve as a weather siren alert.
“It only makes a couple different noises,” Hayes said. “I think the problem you are going to have is you test it on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the tornado siren, and then there is a different tone for snow, or a Marathon emergency or a DTE emergency. The education for the citizens is going to be absolutely paramount.
“I think perhaps you should look at upgrading that system so that it could do a recorded message as opposed to just a siren alone.”
Hayse acknowledged that such a system would be extremely expensive.
“Most of the 911 calls we received regarding the DTE incident, only a couple people were telling us what happened,” Hayse said. “Everyone else was calling us to find out.”
Hayse said the officers and firefighters going door to door evacuating residents in specific areas quickly was their priority following the DTE gas main incident.
“I think if you set off a siren at 3 a.m. you are only going to exacerbate the number of calls coming into the Police Department,” Hayse said.
Hayse said he updated the situation July 2 on the Police Department’s Facebook page as quickly as he could.
Commissioner Patty Hall asked if block grant money might be available to update the city warning system. She said the current siren system was purchased from grant funds in the 1970s.
Councilman Wheeler Marsee, who serves as a council liaison with the Public Safety Commission, said he would like to see Marathon and DTE purchase warning systems and educate the residents about them.
“Even though we have first responders, the man that is sitting down there at the end of Allen Road and Greenfield, he was probably the first one who knew that explosion happened,” Marsee said. “The gentleman at Marathon, when they have an incident over there, they think they need to evacuate, that’s the guy I would like to see flip the switch as he is running out the door.”
Hayse said Marathon has a siren system, but to his knowledge DTE does not.
Deputy Fire Chief Steven Densmore said multiple alarms going off tend to confuse people.
“The three evacuations I have been involved with in my time here, not all the city was evacuated at the same time,” Densmore said. “Boots on the ground, people knocking on doors I found is the best way to go.
“No. 1, it’s controlled. No. 2, people are getting the direct information they need from the officer.”
Commissioner Jeff Bolton suggested that a better means be established to get accurate information to the media so inaccurate information is not broadcast.
Hayse said he and the mayor are authorized to put information on Nixle, which offers free and paid notification services for local police departments, county emergency management offices, municipal governments and other agencies. It sends alerts via phone, email and the Internet almost instantaneously.
Hayse said on the night of the DTE blast he was not in his office long enough to use Nixle. He updated the department’s Facebook page from his phone.
“If I’d had an extra person, I could have designated them to do a posting or an advisory on Nixle,” he said. “Honestly I didn’t think of it because I wasn’t in the office, and I don’t have that access to Nixle on my phone.”
Densmore said police and fire typically assign one person to release information to the media, so that consistent output is maintained.
“Even if you get a little bit of information out to (the media), it’s helpful even if you just tell them it’s an active scene and this is what we have in play,” Densmore said.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)