By John Balch
The city of Nashville is down to only one warning siren – a Civil Defense relic – after the recent tornado knocked out the other three, according to Nashville Fire Chief Jerry Harwell, who is also the self-described “keeper of the storm sirens.”
The old Civil Defense siren is mounted under the water tower, but presents two major problems: it has to be manually triggered and it will not work when the power goes out because it has no battery backup.
Harwell said the siren was inspected and tested last Friday, and it functioned, despite a family of flying squirrels having taken up residence in the device. The rotating siren works off of a three-phase air compressor that loudly projects the warning sound.
Plans are to have the siren linked by radio signal so Harwell does not have to drive to the water tower and physically trigger the device during an emergency situation.
The city’s “newer” alert sirens are 20-plus years old and are located at Tolland Heights, Main and Sypert, and on Mount Pleasant near the city limits. Those three sirens do not work now because their electronics and “drivers” were pushed to the limit when they were sounded for an extended period of time prior to the arrival of the May 10 tornado.
“They did their job,” Harwell said. “But, once it was all said and done, they wouldn’t fire back up.”
Replacing the sirens will prove costly. Harwell said sirens like the existing three could cost anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000 each. Replacing the damaged electronics and drivers could cost up to $1,200 each.
Harwell, who also serves as the city’s code enforcement and compliance officer, said he would be in favor of replacing the existing sirens with an old-fashioned “grinder-type” model which uses an electric motor to turn a very loud “noise maker.”
“They have fewer moving parts and if they stop working, I can fix them,” he added. These types of sirens would cost an estimated $9,000 to $10,000.
In the meantime, Harwell advised citizens to be extra vigilant during weather situations, stay tuned into local media and consider purchasing a battery-powered NOAA weather radio.