Sumter County officials may upgrade siren system

March 12, 2007

Americus--  The night a deadly tornado caused so much damage in Americus, no one heard a warning siren. There's no county-wide siren system. The limited system in place didn't work. That has leaders talking about the need for something new.

The city does have one siren for emergencies. It was originally thought that two firefighters attempted to sound it but were told to turn back because it was too dangerous. We've found out that's not the case.  There was an attempt, and now some other attempts to increase safety could be on the way.

It's a night certainly not to be forgotten in Americus, March 1st. "We're dealing with trying to get the city back to normal," said Charlotte Cotton.

That night was not normal.  A devastating tornado blew through town. An emergency siren may have warned people of the danger.

"You flip a switch and it comes on and you flip a switch and it goes off," said Cotton. A siren is located at the top of the city's municipal building. City Chief Administrative Officer Charlotte Cotton says it's been there for decades.

"I've been with the city for 25 years and I know it's been here longer than I've been here," said Cotton.

It's an old siren but it was not forgotten when severe weather hit. During the frenzy, city leaders originally thought there was a halted attempt to sound it. Turns out, firefighters did go the extra mile.

"What happened was they did actually make it over here and there was no power in the municipal building and because there was no power, there was no siren" said Cotton. Here's another surprise.  Even if it did sound, not many people would have heard it.

"I think you can hear it about a block in either direction around the municipal building," said Cotton.

The sounds of the siren may not go far but damage was spread out all over the county.  Some changes may be on the way to alert everyone to danger.

"We're talking with the Sheriff who is the emergency management person for the entire county, not just the county, but all the cities in the county to see if he has any plans to get a countywide emergency siren system," said Cotton.

Cotton feels an upgraded, countywide system may be the best thing for the area in the future. "I don't know that any system would have made any difference in this particular event but I think in the future it could possibly," said Cotton.

Possibly, the sounds of sirens will be heard over the sounds of severe weather, before it leaves all of the mess behind.

Cotton says the city and county hope to get money from the state or federal government to get those county-wide sirens installed. Of course, leaders say for now their top priority continues to be rebuilding and getting things back to normal.