Greenwood County’s emergency siren system is beginning to remind us of the tale of the long-shuttered civic center. In short, nothing has changed.
County residents have for years come to react to the eerie and ominous sounds of those sirens as if trained by Pavlov himself. Even during the monthly testing, it was not unusual to see people scrambling to look out of workplace windows on an otherwise bright and clear day, only to see them realize it is 9 a.m. on the first Monday of the month. Just to help allay people’s fears, the Index-Journal several years ago began publishing notices in weekend papers to remind people the system would be tested the next Monday morning.
A year or so ago, county emergency management director  George McKinney suggested county council consider phasing the sirens out.  The system is old and as it ages, it has become difficult to nearly impossible to find replacement parts for those sirens that emit that unique sound that signals imminent danger. In fact, as reported Sunday, 17 of the county’s 20 operational sirens are more than 30 years old. It’s getting harder and harder for county personnel to keep them operational.


But since those sirens became operational decades ago and began serving a tremendous purpose in alerting residents of possible tornadoes and severe storms, great advances have been made. Certainly, for one, weather data is far more accurate and delivered more expediently. And warning systems have gone high-tech. Not only do we have the standard alert system via television and radio broadcasters, but also NOAA weather radios. Additionally, smartphone owners can download apps, such as The Weather Channel and others, that deliver weather alerts to mobile users -- often faster than the county can kick the siren system in gear to sound an alarm.
So far, nothing has changed. The county continues to test and operate the sirens it has throughout the area and is not issuing a decision on whether to give McKinney the OK to pull the plug on the system. Meanwhile, the system continues to age and be cobbled together with makeshift repairs. Not everyone on council is ready to pull the plug, and we understand the thinking. Not everyone in Greenwood County has a smartphone. Not everyone has a NOAA radio. For those who might be outside and not close to a radio or TV or within reach of a smartphone, the audible alarm might be the only way they know a bad storm or tornado is targeting the county.
But the fact remains that one day the system will cease to exist. One by one, the sirens will fall silent because they simply cannot be repaired. Meanwhile, what can or should be done? This is where we believe county council can and should be proactive. Fine, keep the sirens going for so long as they have life in them to blast that eerie sound. In the interim, however, there would be nothing wrong and plenty right if the county would launch an aggressive education program to urge people to use smartphone weather apps. Additionally, the county should follow the lead of neighboring Saluda County, which, several years ago, arranged a deal through which residents could purchase NOAA weather radios at a discounted price. Greenwood County could do the same. In fact, perhaps it could even go an extra step by establishing workshops in which it would not only show residents how to use the NOAA radios, but also perform the initial setup.
Times change. Needs change. Technology changes. As much as we too have appreciated the service the county’s emergency sirens have provided so many years, we also realize that they, much like rotary telephones, are growing outdated and even cost-prohibitive to service. While no one on county council wants to be accused of endangering residents’ lives by giving the go-ahead on pulling the plug on the siren system’s life support, we believe the council as a whole can certainly do its part to ease the transition away from the system. Before the sirens simply fall silent on their own.