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This is only a test

Oak Lawn to try out new tornado sirens

By Laura Bollin

If Oak Lawn residents hear tornado alert warnings in the coming weeks, they shouldn't worry: it's only a test.

The village will be testing a new tornado siren system between Feb. 11 and Feb. 22. The system will replace the village's current one, which is 25 years old.

Residents might hear the sirens anytime between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday during the 10-day testing period. Days and times cannot be more specific because installation is weather dependent, said Oak Lawn police Cmdr. Arthur L. Clark, coordinator of the village's emergency management team.

"The installation includes sinking telephone poles and electrical hook ups," Clark said. "Testing will occur as each pole is installed. Testing involves checking the tone and volume at each location."

Along with the sirens, the system will also include programmable microphones for emergency vehicles, Clark said. The microphones will be installed in four police supervisor vehicles and in the village's incident command vehicle, a converted ambulance set up like an office.

"It has multiple computers and radios and allows you to deal with large-scale incidents," Clark said. "Microphones will also be in the 911 center and the emergency operations center, where the village does large-scale events and disaster planning. It's in the basement of the fire station on 93rd Street. It is where village supervisors would come during a large-scale disaster, and they would work from here."

The purchase and installation of the system will cost $120,000. The total includes $114,872 for the purchase of the sirens, poles and software. The remainder covers the cost of the electrical work, programming of the 911 consoles and the purchase of programmable microphones for selected emergency vehicles, Clark said.

The new system will have the ability to relay messages in four languages: English, Spanish, Polish, and Arabic. Ninety percent of Oak Lawn residents speak one of those languages, village manager Larry Deetjen said. Out of all Oak Lawn residents, 15.1 percent are foreign-born, and 26.4 percent speak a language other than English at home.

Test messages will include siren test tones and voice alert messages.

The message during the test will state, "the weather service has issued a tornado warning, take shelter now. The siren is designed to provide warnings for people outdoors, Clark said. Some residents may be able to hear the siren from inside their homes, but that depends on how close they are to the sirens and the construction of their home, he added.

"Weather alert radios are the best means of warning for persons who are inside their home or offices or when they are sleeping," Clark said. "You can get a weather alert radio at a Home Depot or hardware store. It can be battery operated or plug in. It is set up so when the National Weather Service sets off a tornado warning, it sets off an alarm in your house. If you're asleep, you might not hear the tone outside, but you would hear the loud tone and wake up, and it would tell you there is serious weather and to take shelter."

The system will make Oak Lawn be better prepared for tornadoes and other emergencies, village officials said. The system can also be used for situations such as chemical spills or an overturned tanker truck leaking a hazardous substance, Clark said.

"We want to use it in situations where we want to notify people to take shelter and we need to inform them as quickly as possible," Clark said.

Public works employees will be installing and testing sirens in the 5500 block of 111th Street and Frontage Road, 102nd Street and Major Avenue, 103rd Street and Kostner Avenue, 93rd Place and Keeler Avenue, 6451 W. 93rd Place, and 91st Street and 52nd Avenue near Covington School.

Mayor Dave Heilmann at last week's Village Board meeting jokingly told residents the system won't always be used for tornadoes.

"When there is no emergency, we'll play soothing music through the village," Heilmann said.