Western's new $100,000 siren warns of bad weather
London Community News
By Richard J. Brennan
When the University of Western Ontario sounds the alarm, it’s time to head for shelter … well except for earlier this week when the system was tested.
Southwestern Ontario is no stranger to severe weather. The stretch between Windsor and London is actually called tornado alley.
Witness the devastation wrought on the picturesque town of Goderich on Lake Huron just over a year ago when a powerful tornado ripped the area killing one person.
Tornadoes or severe storms packing high winds often come with little warning, but the University of Western Ontario in London has decided it’s high time its 40,000 students and staff, as well as the surrounding community, have every opportunity to get out of harm’s way.
An emergency omnidirectional weather siren, which weighs about 1,500 pounds and is about eight feet high, has been installed on the roof of Alumni Hall at a cost of $100,000. The system has a voice component as well.
When it was tested this week, the sound was reported eight kilometres away, Campus Community Police Service director Elgin Austen, who initiated the project, told the Star.
“It will be used when severe weather is moving in — tornado touchdowns, severe electrical storms and things like that — when people really do need to take cover,” he said, noting the growing unpredictability of storms.
“Western is known as a leader for safe campus communities,” he said.
Austen said campus police will determine the use of the siren by monitoring weather radar and radios, as well as Environment Canada alerts. A special code must be entered for the siren to be activated in order to avoid false alarms.
Allison Stuart, chief of Emergency Measures Ontario, said all too often it takes a serious incident, be it a tornado or a forest fire, for people to put in place measures to protect themselves.
“Usually we don’t think about these sorts of things until something bad happens. We have found when something bad does happens we get a real, measurable increase in the number of people who come our website emergencymanagementontario.ca to start developing their own emergency plans,” said Stuart, who is also an assistant deputy minister at the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Queen’s University in Kingston and Hamilton’s McMaster University have similar systems.
There are four components to the UWO system: test, tornado warning, severe weather and finally the all clear.
“What really gave this (idea) some traction was when the tornado came ripping through Goderich, which is just north of us here. One death and a lot of damage,” Austen said.
The early warning system is reminiscent of the cold war sirens installed in communities across Ontario back in the 1950s, which for the most part have long since been dismantled. Often they would go off accidentally, to the point where people paid little attention to them.
“We wanted that it didn’t sound like our ambulances and fire trucks, police cars and so on. It starts off low and escalated to a high pitch and maintains that high pitch, almost like an air raid siren, while the all clear is completely different. It’s like an air horn sound,” Austen said.
The Pickering nuclear plant has an early warning system designed to notify local residents in the event of an accident. When it is periodically tested, some residents complain they don’t know what it means or what they are supposed to do.
The town of Amherstburg near Windsor, has sirens because of the nearby Michigan Fermi II nuclear power plant, while Sarnia’s are related to that city’s Chemical Valley.
- Torstar News Service