When you hear a weather siren you know it’s time to pay attention and prepare to take cover. But out in some parts of Clay County residents don’t always hear the city’s weather sirens, and when natural disasters hit close to their homes they only have a few minutes to retreat to safety.
That’s why for five long years Clay County Emergency Management officials have been trying diligently to provide county residents with weather sirens that will warn people when a tornado, thunderstorm or other weather-related disaster is headed their way.
West Point Fire Chief Johnnie Littlefield said over the last five years the Clay County Emergency Management team has applied for a Hazard Mitigation Grant for seven sirens but have been turned down every time – until now.
Thursday the Clay County Board of Supervisors were informed that the county was approved for a $141,700 Hazard Mitigation Grant through the Department of Homeland Security for seven digital sirens. The sirens will be placed at the Tibbee, Montpelier and Una Volunteer Fire Departments as well as the Prairie Community Center, the Siloam Voting Precinct, the District 5 County barn and the Unit 100 Volunteer Fire Station on Hazelwood Road.
“They talk a good ballgame on these things and when it comes down to putting the money out it’s like, ‘Sorry, we just don’t have it this time,’” Littlefield said. “For some reason they came off of it this year. Last year it sounded like they were going to give us the grant so they said you need to do this this and this. So we had to take each supervisor out to the sight where they felt the sirens would do the most good in their district – where they felt the sirens would notify the most people. We had to take a picture of the sight, get a GPS reading of the sight and make a small summary of why this is where the siren needs to be.”
That information was sent in last year, and Emergency Management received word back that there was no funding. But this year the county was given the go ahead to fill out paperwork, having been told that they will likely get approved.
Littlefield said in the past this type of grant required a 25 percent monetary or in-kind match by the county that received the grant, but now the grant is funded 95 percent. That means Clay County only has to pay around $7,000 for the sirens that usually cost around $20,000 each.
“That’s just really something,” he said. “All the paperwork has been signed, sealed and delivered back to Jackson. I was tickled that we were able to get that, and I was glad they’re only going to have to match five percent of that total. This money is for city or county; whichever purpose it serves best.”
The county will have to accept bids and decide on what vendor to go with in purchasing and installing the sirens, and the county is unsure just when the sirens will be put in place.
Littlefield said there are not many counties or rural areas in the state that have an early-warning weather system in place so this is a huge benefit to Clay County.