By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Tucumcari City Commissioners are considering new sirens to replace the unreliable instruments that were once the city’s best warning system for tornados.
After Quay County spent the night of June 7 dealing with tornado watches, and for a while, a tornado warning, the commissioners on Thursday gave emergency communications serious consideration.
Commissioners decided some exploration of ways to obtain updated sirens to warn people outside that tornado danger is imminent.
On Friday, Mayor Robert Lumpkin said he would explore some grant options that may be available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund updated sirens.
Scot Jaynes, manager of the dispatch center that serves Quay and Harding counties, including Tucumcari, said three state-of-the-art sirens could serve all of the city except for the motels at the eastern end of town at the Historic Route 66 exit from Interstate 40.
In the meantime, First District Commissioner Rick Haymaker suggested if the current sirens aren’t working, “We should tear them down.” Leaving them up, he said, gives a false sense of security.
The city’s main tool in early warning, however, is the “reverse-911” system that allows only affected customers in the county to be targeted with pre-recorded telephone calls that warn them of danger, Jaynes said. Jaynes said dispatchers can specify customers to be notified by drawing an outline of the affected area on a digital map.
Jaynes said this system allows dispatchers several options for recording and dispersing emergency messages through the telephone. Residents can also receive e-mails that warn of danger.
The system gives dispatchers the option of recording an emergency message or writing one that can be delivered by a computerized voice, which sounds surprisingly clear and human, or by e-mail or TTY to special needs customers.
While the system is programmed to find phone numbers in a “white pages” application, Jaynes said, residents have the option of “opting in” to the warning system.
To sign up for the warning system online, residents can go to the city’s website at www.cityoftucumcari.com, and find the “Citizen Alert, Notification Signup” button on the right side of the home page. Clicking on the button takes visitors to a screen where they can start the process of signing up to be notified.
Jaynes said all precautions are made to protect citizens’ privacy with the system.
“We can’t see names and phone numbers on the system,” he said.
The system also is programmed not to give up if a person cannot be reached at the first phone number that a resident has entered, Jaynes said. It will try several times at one number before moving on another, and will resort to sending a written message via e-mail if the person cannot be reached by phone.
The only problem now, he said, is that without an emergency manager in the county — a position he held before becoming Tucumcari’s assistant fire chief — there is a question of who would be authorized to activate the reverse-911 system. That’s a decision that may currently fall to the city’s chief of police or fire chief, or to City Manager Doug Powers or County Manager Richard Primrose, Jaynes said.