Tornadoes have slammed Cook County in recent years, causing seven deaths in January 2017, damaging homes and businesses in April 2020, and again impacting about two dozen homes in January 2023, six years to the day of the deadliest natural disaster in local history.
Local leaders have responded by seeking to add another method of early warning for citizens: Several emergency sirens that will be installed throughout the community.
During the work session on Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, Cook County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director/Fire Chief Johnny West brought good news to the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Georgia EMA Director James C. Stallings advised on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp that a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) award has been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The grant will be used to purchase and install 13 warning sirens.
The total approved cost is $332,661, with a federal share of $249,495.75, state share of $33,266, and a local share of $49,899.25.
During the County Commission’s regular session on Monday, Commissioner Lindsey Parrish made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Guy Daughtrey to approve executing a Recipient-Subrecipient Agreement for the grant to fund the sirens. All voted in favor.
The County plans to have the sirens installed by Sirens of Cities at the County Commissioners’ Office, Cecil Fire Station, Chaserville Fire Station, Cook High School, Adel Electrical Department, the City of Lenox, Massee Post Recreation Department, Pine Valley Station 1, Reed Bingham State Park (the original planned location was McConnell Bridge Fire Station, but it had to be nixed because it is in a flood plain), Register Road Fire Station, Futch Road Fire Station, the City of Sparks, and Walmart. West said the sirens should be up within the next few months.
West thanked everyone on the local, state, and federal level involved in obtaining funding for the sirens. The local match will come from the County’s contingency fund.
Residents will be able to hear a siren for five miles around it outside, West said. “The sirens will cover about everywhere in the county.”
Sparks has a tornado siren, but it has to be manually activated, West said. “We won’t have to send someone to City Hall to set off the alarm.” The new sirens will be automatically activated by National Weather Service warnings and will only go off in the NWS projected path of a twister, he added.
The County will keep the sirens maintained and will periodically conduct tests of sirens, West said. Cook EMA will notify the public in advance of the siren tests by social media and the newspaper.
Also during the Monday, Feb. 6, County Commission work session, West requested to apply for a FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG). The total grant funds sought will be $1.2 million.
The grant will fund the purchase of a Spartan chassis pumper-tanker truck and replacement of 52 air packs with complete bottles for firefighters.
The newest fire engine that the City of Adel has is a Spartan, and there has been a lot of good feedback on how it functions, West said.
The County’s proposed new pumper-tanker will hold 3,000 gallons of water and will have the capability to pump 1,500 gallons per minute. The new truck will replace one that holds only 500 gallons of water and is 35 years old.
West noted that the Fire Department is having issues with the current air packs’ battery components involving moisture infiltration and corrosion and they are costly to repair.
The grant will require a 15 percent local match, or $180,000. Most of that match will be covered by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds. West said it will take six to eight months before the County will be notified if it will receive the AFG from FEMA. Improvements made with the grant should help with the County’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) ratings.
During the County Commission’s regular session, Commissioner Daughtrey made a motion, seconded by Commissioner Jeff Lane, to apply for the $1.2 million Aid to Firefighters Grant. All voted in favor.
The County currently has 36 certified firefighters. A new class will be attended by seven County firefighters, with some City of Adel and City of Sparks firefighters, on Thursday.
Other business during the Monday, Feb. 6, work session of the County Commission, Chief West announced that FEMA has approved a Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) Award for Cook County. The grant will be used to update the Cook County Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan to meet the federal requirements of the Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000. The plan is intended to reduce the impacts caused by natural hazards.
The total approved cost is $20,000 with a federal share of $18,000, a state share of $800, a local share of $1,200, and a Subrecipient Management cost of $1,413.40.
According to GEMA, the County’s current Hazard Mitigation Plan will expire on Aug. 4, 2024. The end date of the new grant is Jan. 31, 2026. In order to keep the current plan active and meet the end date of the grant, the County needs to submit an initial draft to their assigned Hazard Mitigation Planner at least six months prior to the earliest of either the plan expiration date or the grant end date.
During the County Commission’s regular session, Commissioner Audie Rowe made a motion to authorize Chair Debra McKenney to endorse the grant. Commissioner Daughtrey seconded the motion, and the vote in favor was unanimous.