911 Board Discusses Major Upgrade for Owensboro, Kentucky's Emergency Siren System

Aside from being unsupported by the vendor, the current system requires someone to activate the sirens in person from either the dispatch center or the EMA office in the county courthouse.

by James Mayse, Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. / November 8, 2018

(TNS) - The Owensboro-Daviess County 911 board Wednesday discussed replacing hardware and software that activate the city's emergency weather sirens, a project that would require funding in both the city and county budgets.

Daviess County Emergency Management Director Andy Ball said after the meeting that county officials are ready to move forward on budgeting for the new equipment if city elected officials agree. Ball said a decision would have to be made in the near future so funding for the equipment can be included in the next city budget.

The hardware is in the 911 Dispatch Center and EMA offices and activates the county's warning sirens. Paul Nave, the city and county 911 center director, said the equipment is outdated.

"Our system is sunsetting and is not going to be supported" by its manufacturer, Nave said. "So, we are going to have to come up with a solution that is a viable solution."

After the meeting, Ball said the system is old, and a few years ago, the hardware in the EMA office broke down and was out of service for about seven weeks, which meant the only place the sirens could be activated was from dispatch.

"For the past three years, I've wanted to replace the system," Ball said. "The judge (executive) wants to replace it."

Aside from being unsupported by the vendor, the current system requires someone to activate the sirens in person from either the dispatch center or the EMA office in the county courthouse. If a weather emergency happens after normal EMA business hours, Ball said he has to call dispatch to have someone there sound the sirens.

With a new system, the sirens could be activated "from my cell (phone)," Ball said. Voice messages could also be sent to the sirens capable of broadcasting messages from a cellphone, he said.

There are six sirens in the county that can't receive and play voice messages because they use old technology. Ball said he is replacing older sirens periodically with grants and expects to have the older sirens replaced within six to eight years.

The hardware system would cost the city about $22,000 and the county $18,000, with the money coming from the city and county's operating budgets, as opposed to the 911 center's budget, Ball said. Both the system in the EMA office and the system at the dispatch center would need to be replaced at the same time.

"We don't want an antiquated system in the city, with a brand-new system here" in the county courthouse, Ball said. "That would defeat the purpose."

Ball asked the board members to recommend city commissioners include the project in their next budget. City Police Chief Art Ealum said the vendor Ball had consulted, Whelen Engineering, has hardware being used by seven agencies in the state, with two of those agencies being the dispatch center and the EMA office. Whelen Engineering is the vendor for outdated hardware now being used.

Ealum recommended the board talk to other vendors before recommending the city fund the project in its budget. Ball said afterward the project would have to go through the bid process before a vendor was selected.

"My concern is the city's budget is quickly coming up," Ball said. " ... If it doesn't make it into this budget cycle, I have to wait another year and a half," before the funds could be approved in both the city and county budgets. The city and county are both on fiscal years, and elected officials in both bodies will discuss their next budgets in the spring for approval by July 1.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse


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