Nine warning sirens that serve Columbia’s less-affluent neighborhoods are at risk of remaining silent in an emergency, and city officials are working to remedy the problem.
James McNabb, director of the Office of Emergency Management, said some of the city’s sirens are more than 30 years old. Although none of them is malfunctioning, they have been in place long beyond the manufacturer’s recommended life span of 20 years.
“It’s as difficult to get parts for a 30-year-old siren as it is for a 30-year-old car,” McNabb said.
While sirens undergo routine tests once a month, McNabb noted that an aging siren could work fine one day but not the next.
McNabb said his office has been trying to keep pace with a siren-maintenance program that calls for replacing five sirens a year until all are upgraded and placed on a routine maintenance schedule. His office earlier this year requested $186,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for fiscal 2004 to replace the aging sirens. The Community Development Commission and City Manager Ray Beck, however, have recommended $96,000 and $46,000, respectively, to address the problem.
The funding is subject to approval by the Columbia City Council as part of the proposed budget for fiscal 2004. The council is scheduled to approve the budget at its Sept. 15 meeting. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The block grant money, which comes from the federal government, can be used only for projects in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods. In his application for the money, McNabb indicated six sirens in block grant-eligible areas that are in critical shape and need to be replaced as soon as possible. Another three critical sirens are on the fringes of block grant areas and serve many of their residents.
Overall, there are 17 sirens in the city that need to be replaced at an estimated cost of $16,000 apiece, including equipment, parts and installation, according to McNabb’s application.
Tom Lata, community development coordinator for the city, said $96,000 would be enough to replace six sirens. Replacing all nine critical sirens in or near block grant areas would cost $144,000, McNabb said in his application.
The Office of Emergency Management maintains 69 warning sirens in Boone County. Forty of those are in the city of Columbia.