Fort Plain officials gathered behind the Village Hall on Thursday morning to watch black steel machinery unfold, raising a 300-pound stack of saucers 50 feet into the sky.
It wasn’t a death ray — just a very big siren.
“That will blow your shirt off,” said Mayor Guy Barton.
Mid-State Communications of Oriskany brought in a 129-decibel siren for a demonstration and to get a sense of the acoustics of the village.
After the Otsquago Creek floodwaters rushed through Fort Plain on June 28, Barton decided the village needed some sort of warning system and started raising money. He said Thursday the alarm fund has nearly $12,000 in donations.
The siren test was part of the shopping process.
“This will cover a radius of 4,200 feet,” said Mid-State sales representative Stephen Barrie, plugging in wires and getting ready to blast away.
At 11 a.m. Barton, Montgomery County Emergency Management Director Adam Schwabrow and a few other local officials braced in the village garage for the siren.
It was quite an impressive sound system. From 50 feet away, the sound hit like a wall. It filled everything, shook the lung cavity and moved arm hairs. Then it was gone without an echo.
Barton later said he had volunteer listeners all over the village and across the Mohawk River in Nelliston during the test. They all heard the blasts.
The idea was originally to install a series of stream gauges along the Otsquago Creek and hook them to a siren. Such a system could have warned Ethel Healey before the June flooding took her and her Abbott Street home downstream, killing her.
Early on, Barton had estimated the whole setup would cost roughly $15,000. Barrie said the siren alone, a rotating speaker with slightly more output than the test piece, will cost $15,000, plus another $12,000 to install 50 feet up.
Stream gauges will likely cost considerably more.
Still slightly dazed by the 129-decibel blast, Schwabrow and local firefighter Bill Ehrenreich debated the merits of just putting in the siren without the gauges.
“We need advanced warning,” Ehrenreich said. “If we knew the water was rising seven miles back, that might help. If we set it off when the water’s rising a foot a minute in the village, the siren may as well just be saying ‘sorry.’ ”
Schwabrow pointed out a siren even without the gauges would be better than the current system — a 20-year-old analog fire siren and reverse 911 call network that took more than an hour to warn everyone of the June flooding.
A new siren could also be connected to the National Weather Service in Albany even without the gauges, and has multiple tones for use in different types of emergencies. Several of those tones were tested Thursday, along with a recorded voice assuring “This is a test.”
After the tests, Barton said he plans to meet with other siren companies next week as well as stream gauge manufacturers.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., did launch a funding crusade for more stream gauges in July. He wanted to improve on the small number of gauges currently working across the state, but Barton said state officials told him there was no money for the Otsquago Creek project.
“We’re just doing this ourselves,” he said.
Given the reliance on donations, the project’s completion date is unpredictable.