Outagamie County transitions away from tornado siren maintenance

An outdoor warning siren is seen in Outagamie County May 21, 2018. (WLUK)

OUTAGAMIE COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- Outagamie County officials are encouraging residents to rely on something other than a tornado siren during an emergency.

It's part of a new system, but the cost of maintaining those sirens would be left up to the cities, villages and towns.

"When those sirens sound, that's not the time to act, you waited too long," said Outagamie County Emergency Management Director Lisa Van Schyndel.

Van Schyndel says the new message system will ensure residents are alerted, even when they don't find themselves near a siren.

It's called the AtHoc emergency notification system.

"The AtHoc notification system can notify you by cell, email, landline or text message," explained Van Schyndel.

The system is free and residents can register online.

It's a part of the county's transition away from tornado siren maintenance.

"Keep in mind that, about 70 percent of the county's land mass doesn't have a siren," explained Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson.

County officials say cost is a big reason for the change.

"What Outagamie County is doing is looking at the cost," said Van Schyndel. "What we spend on sirens, we're transitioning that to new technology."

Replacing a siren, Van Schyndel says can cost up to $25,000. That doesn't include maintenance.

While she says the cost of the new message system will be roughly $27,000 a year.

Van Schyndel says the sirens aren't going away. Starting in 2020, she says upkeep and maintenance will be the hands of the local municipalities.

But not everyone is on board with the idea.

Kaukauna Mayor Tony Penterman says covering that cost will be a challenge.

"Yes, that's a major concern. Because with a tight budget already, where is that money going to come from?"

He says the measure might also under serve those who rely on the sirens.

"The elderly who don't have phones, the kids that may be playing in the park," Penterman explained.

County officials say the transition is meant to give residents additional resources during an emergency.

"Our pitch is to have redundancy. We are offering more tools for people to use," Van Schyndel said.

Outagamie County owns and operates 43 tornado sirens.

The FOX 11 Weather App can also warn you to severe weather in your location, whether you're at home or traveling. Download the app here.

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