If you heard storm sirens Monday, there was no need for worry. The city of Stephenville was testing a new storm system that's "been a long time coming," City Administrator Mark Kaiser said.
"It's been a long process, years really," Kaiser said. "But we've updated the city's outdoor storm notification system. We tested it earlier this week and are prepared to go live anytime the system is need."
The new system, which consists of eight sirens, will cover 95-98 percent of the city's population, Stephenville Fire Chief Jimmy Chew said. The new system is activated via a "tone out" on the fire department radio instead of via telephone lines like the old one.
"This modern system allows for less issues because there are less wires to worry about," Chew said. "In the past we've had trouble with animals getting in the sirens and chewing the wires. Or if the phone lines were down due to the storm it could have been a problem. These sirens don't face those issues."
The city previously had five sirens - four small ones located throughout the area and one large siren in West End Cemetery. Those sirens, which are 45 to 50 years old, were still working, but did not cover the entire city. Now, with the purchase of eight new sirens and keeping the one large siren in the cemetery, the city will have nine storm sirens covering the entire city, as well as some neighborhoods and subdivisions outside the city limits.
"Stephenville has grown significantly since the old sirens were installed," Kaiser said. "And even though we were maintaining them and they were still functional, they did not cover the areas where the city has grown. Our goal was to increase the coverage area so that more of the city's population would be able to hear them in the event of an emergency."
City officials had been looking to update the system for a number of years, and when Chew heard Comanche Peak was updating their system due to federal regulations, he made some calls and found out what the plant was doing with their old sirens.
"I have several contacts over there due to Stephenville being one of their relocation centers in the event of an emergency, and they told me the old sirens were headed to a company to be refurbished," Chew said. "So I got the number and gave them a call. Turns out, the city was able to purchase the refurbished sirens at a significantly reduced cost from a brand new siren."
The new sirens cost about $45,000.
The original storm sirens were posted at various locations around Stephenville approximately 45 years ago. One at water tower on the Dublin Hwy., one on the Northwest Loop near the high school, one on the Lingleville Hwy. near Powder Coat and Wills Dry Cleaning, one on Washington Street by the American Legion building and the large siren in the West End Cemetery.
The new sirens will cover parts of Stephenville that have never had coverage before, including Heritage Hills, Elk Ridge Estates and the area around Legends Country Club. Four of the new sirens have gone to replace the old sirens in the same locations. And the large siren in West End is still there and will remain operational in the event of a storm.
In addition, new sirens have been placed at Higginbotham Brothers Hardware, at the water tank at the airport and one in Elk Ridge Estates. Kaiser said an additional new siren is ready to go, but the exactly location for the placement has yet to be determined.
Chew said the sirens are an outdoor notification system, but the city has a number of ways to notify residents of coming danger.
The newest of which is the city's text notification system, Nixel. This program allows those signed up to receive text messages from the city of Stephenville, the police department and other public safety agencies in the area.
Other forms of notification include radio, weather radio, the city's Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as television for cable subscribers.
"We have a system that allows me to pick up the telephone, and when that switch is flipped, no matter what station or channel you're watching, it goes dark," Kaiser said. "It's nothing but me, my voice, talking. I read the alert or the storm information and the notification, then we go back to regular programing. It's a good way to alert people, if they're inside and have a TV on. Our best forms of notification are the sirens and Nixel."
With storm season nearing, city officials will continue to work to keep residents safe in the event of an emergency.
To sign up for Nixel go to the police department's website at www.stephenvillepolice.org or text '76401' to 888-777 from your mobile phone.
The city will be testing the sirens on the first Wednesday of every month at 10 a.m., weather permitting.