ASSIGNMENT 13: Volunteers uncover three broken emergency sirens during test

By: Aaron Dimick Email
By: Aaron Dimick Email

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Across the Chippewa Valley on Monday morning emergency sirens sounded, getting ready before the next big storm hits.

But not all alarms sounded as they should.

In our special Assignment 13 report, we will reveal which sirens were silent.

We started looking into siren malfunctions two weeks ago after a viewer tipped us off about one not working after two big storms.

But do you ever wonder who has the important job of making sure the sirens go off?

WEAU 13 News talked with the volunteers who are keeping your family safe.

With his radio microphone in hand, Joe Eide spent the first Monday of the month as he has for the past several years, in the parking lot of Eau Claire North High School.

He’s one of more than a dozen volunteers from the Eau Claire Amateur Radio Club who keep watch over the city’s 19 emergency warning sirens.

Here’s how it all goes down: volunteer coordinator Ron Larson makes sure his team is assembled and tells the Eau Claire Emergency Communications Center that they’re ready to go.

And a little after 11 am sirens blared across the city.

That means go time for Eide and other volunteers who then step into action.

“We want it to sound and we want it to rotate, during the time it's sounding you want to make sure it operates smoothly and it isn't intermittent,” Eide said.

The ear-splitting noise shows the repairs on the siren finally worked.

WEAU looked into the North High location in June after neighbors were concerned that it wasn’t sounding and was putting them in danger.

But Eide quickly reported back that this time, North High had passed its test with flying colors.

Larson takes reports from the other watchers after their sirens are done sounding.

“I go down the list of all the sirens they have on the radio net and try to find out if people were out there and find out if they did or did not work,” Larson said.

But Larson soon found out not all locations passed Monday’s test.

Sirens at Eau Claire Memorial High School, the Shawtown Neighborhood Park and the Princeton Valley Golf Course all failed.

“This is why we test these sirens monthly,” said Tom Hurley, the Director of Eau Claire County Emergency Management.

Hurley said there are a number of reasons why the sirens could malfunction but he’s not sure what happened on Monday.

“Construction in the area that they've turned off the power for whatever reason, batteries that have failed, something with the radio communications,” Hurley said.

A faulty battery charger was found to be the problem at North High.
While the area has seen hot temperatures lately, Hurley said the sirens are designed to make it through extreme heat and cold.

The radio operators said they’re concerned that sirens can fail when they’re needed most.

“This would be one of the sirens that we would hear in case of an emergency. I find it troubling,” Eide said.

Hurley said three failures is a big number for a monthly test and the county has contacted the sirens’ vendors.

While repairing the sirens is out of their hands, the radio volunteers said they’re glad to sacrifice a little bit of time each month.

“The sirens are there for a reason and I'm sure in certain instances they can save lives or alert people so they can be prepared,” Eide said.

“The public safety service that they provide is something this entire community needs to be recognized,” Hurley said.

If you suspect a siren isn’t working in your neighborhood call your city hall.

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  • by Rich on Jul 7, 2012 at 08:30 AM
    Good job Ron & team.
  • by Anonymous on Jul 3, 2012 at 01:00 PM
    Well, with money allocated where it is needed, and budgets that are tight - utilizing willing volunteers such as myself is the most cost-effective method. Using the automated microphones, sensing and feedback devices leaves it open for THEM to fail as well.
  • by Jay on Jul 3, 2012 at 08:03 AM
    It would seem that a automated procedure involving test microphones, rotor current sensing devices, and a simple internet-connected feedback device would allow a test without the need of the many volunteers.
  • by IAmTheWolf Location: Osseo on Jul 3, 2012 at 07:07 AM
    As this type of thing is or should be a secondary alert system the story should include the progress on Emergency Texting system. Is the local area on track or ahead of the federal system?
  • by anonymous Location: Eau Claire on Jul 3, 2012 at 04:39 AM
    Really enjoyed this story, glad they put some time into reporting it and glad to see the ham operators get the credit they deserve. So many times people just take things for granted and don't realize someone is making sure they're safe.
    • reply
      by Tankman on Jul 7, 2012 at 03:00 PM in reply to anonymous
      Hams are very underated, all this cell phone stuff can crash in a flash, as it did in NYC 9/11, always enjoy listen to them on 2M and HF
  • by Me on Jul 3, 2012 at 02:12 AM
    This is why they are tested. All mechanical things are prone to failure.
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