Siren warning system will soon be replaced
Since a 2010 thunderstorm silenced the Two Harbors weather warning sirens, the city has remained quiet during hazardous weather events.
Lake County Emergency Management Director BJ Kohlstedt told the News-Chronicle in 2010 that the warning system needed to be overhauled. On Tuesday, she and Steve Olson from the Lake County Sheriff's Office appeared in front of the Lake County Board of Commissioners to propose that the siren system be retired completely.
"BJ and I have both taken some heat for not fixing ... the siren system," Olson told the board.
Rather than fixing the sirens, the county will be adopting an emergency notification system.
"The bottom line for me is that we've gotten away without the siren system for a while and we need to do something for the public," Olson said.
The new notification system, called CodeRED, will start working sometime this summer. When a tornado or severe thunderstorm is headed for the region, the county will be able to send out alerts to its citizens. Warnings will be in the form of phone calls, text messages, social media posts and emails, much like the current system the Lake Superior School District uses to notify students and parents of school closures.
Unlike the school district, which sometimes uses the system to alert followers about upcoming events, the county would stick to vital information.
"We would mostly use it for emergency notification,” Kohlstedt said.
The CodeRED system, which will be maintained by the Emergency Communication Network, gathers most of its subscriber information, like phone numbers, from public sources. County officials said that they would also add information that they have access to, like phone numbers from water and electricity customers. Users would also be able to sign up for the service.
"What we're going to gain out of this is far superior to an air horn going off in the middle of the night,” Commissioner Rick Goutermont said.
Commissioner Brad Jones asked how visitors would be alerted. Olson said that the warnings will be sent to any mobile phone users with a provider tower in the service area and people signed up for CodeRED in any other part of the country will also get alerts.
Kohlstedt and Olson also proposed a small marketing budget, so information could be posted at campgrounds, hotels and other areas frequented by out-of-towners encouraging them to sign up for the alerts.
Another feature Olson said will be useful is the ability to send alerts to just one section of the county. The system also can be programmed with groups, and he proposed using it for firefighters and other emergency responders. Most local volunteer responders use a pager, but the CodeRED system would let dispatchers send information to the mobile phones of the responders.
The system will run the county $5,800 a year. Kohlstedt said when she got quotes for a new siren system, most of them cost around $80,000 to install. Goutermont said that the siren system was outdated anyways.
"You still just have a loud noise. No direction, no idea what's going on," he said. "It was an obsolete system at best."
Forty-four counties in Minnesota are already using the CodeRED system, including Cook County. The City of Duluth started using it last month, too.
It’s unclear from where the money for the system would come in the long term, but county administrator Matt Huddleston said he would find a funding source in the budget before the board’s next action meeting.