Schoharie County’s flood siren system, knocked offline by the raging Schoharie Creek last August, is now back online, officials said Tuesday.
Emergency management officials are planning a mid-May event to ensure residents are accustomed to the sound of the rotating, electronic sirens put to the test during Tropical Storm Irene.
Schoharie County Undersheriff Ronald R. Stevens said it cost roughly $220,000 to repair or replace four of the 19 sirens that line the Schoharie Valley from the Gilboa Dam north to Esperance.
The sirens were installed in 2007 to alert residents if the dam’s integrity was threatened. The dam holds back the 19 million-gallon Schoharie Reservoir, part of New York City’s watershed.
The system was activated on Aug. 28 after officials lost contact with gauges on the dam and decided to sound the alarm in case the dam’s stability was compromised. Several residents in the valley confirmed they decided to flee after the sirens sounded, only to return to their homes and find them destroyed.
Schoharie County acting Emergency Management Director Colleen Fullford said she’s convinced “without a doubt” the siren system saved lives.
The $365,000 system was paid for by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection, which manages the dam.
Following the devastating storms last summer, the DEP offered the county $300,000 to get the system operating again, with a request that any insurance or FEMA reimbursement goes back to the city.
Massive flooding took out four of the sirens — one that serves the Priddle Road neighborhood in Esperance, another on Route 20 near Shun Pike Road, a third on Junction Road in Central Bridge and one south of Breakabeen in the town of Blenheim.
Fullford said she expects county officials to discuss whether to revise the siren plan in place. Up until now, the public has been told that the sirens will be activated when the Gilboa Dam is at risk of imminent failure or when there’s an emergency that could result in dam failure.
“We’ve never used it for a high water event, so if we start changing things without a lot of public notice, then people are going to get scared,” Fullford said. “We are thinking about adding a third level to our plan that would include major flooding; that way, we can make sure, like in this event, people got out.”
Aside from a unique, roving siren sound, the system includes a computerized voice at Max V. Shaul State Park and the Nickerson Park campground.
The voice system was included in the project to ensure tourists who might not know what the sirens mean can be told to flee to higher ground.
Although a collapse of the dam also could be catastrophic to Montgomery and Schenectady counties, Schoharie County is the only one of the three counties with a siren system.
The system was developed along with a variety of flood evacuation routes, all of which are detailed on the Emergency Management Department’s link on the Schoharie County website at www.schohariecounty-ny.gov.
Fullford said an audible test of the siren system is being scheduled for the second Wednesday in May, and announcements will be made prior to the event.