Siren system for emergency use to be tested

October 21, 2002|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

Beginning tomorrow, a new Baltimore Fire Department siren system will be tested throughout the city.

The tests will continue through Thursday. Exact times and places haven't been announced. To avoid alarming people, the tests will be preceded by this message: "This is a test. This is a test of the emergency warning system. This is only a test."

City officials have hired a consulting firm, Sidhu Associates, to devise a system with more capabilities than the present one.

In an emergency, the siren sounds throughout Baltimore, without a verbal message explaining the problem. Residents are expected to tune to WBAL radio or television for information. But most people don't, said Fire Department spokesman Michael M. Maybin.

The new system would have a message component and could be sounded in selected areas -- in the neighborhoods near a chemical fire, for example.

Shortcomings of the system became apparent during the Howard Street train tunnel fire in July of last year. Officials sounded the siren as a chemical fire burned, yet residents generally didn't know there was a potential public health emergency looming. Moreover, the Fire Department didn't have the ability to limit the siren to areas most affected by the incident.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks increased the sense of urgency.

"As time went on [since Sept. 11], we made a list of things to do ... in case of an attack," Maybin said.

He said the new system is in development. For testing purposes, the devices will be transported on Fire Department vehicles and sounded in different areas.

Maybin said city officials are examining other steps beyond sirens that need to be taken to prepare for possible crises.

"I believe there is a whole list of things that need to be looked at as we prepare ourselves for an emergency," he said. "Decisions need to be touched on to alert the public and make the public aware."

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