Natural disasters have focused their attention elsewhere as the county has waited for more than a year to install a formidable warning system at the highest point in Oak Harbor.
After Tuesday’s successful installation of the All-Hazard Alert Broadcasting system, or AHAB, near the water towers at the corner of Heller Street and Whidbey Avenue, Mother Nature can bring it on.
An AHAB device is a high-volume warning siren with added features, including self-sufficient power, flashing lights and the capability to broadcast public address announcements.
The state-financed project has been delayed in part because the AHAB, a tower of seven separate oval pods, required a taller pole to elevate the 1,200-pound system above the water towers. With a 70-foot pole in place, 58 feet of which extends out of the ground, all of the ducks were finally in a row.
David Hollett, Island County Department of Emergency Management deputy director, was all smiles Tuesday at the project site. With less than 24 hours notice from the contractors, he pulled off a logistical coup.
“The AHAB has been in the Oak Harbor Public Works building since February of last year,” he said. “We brought that over by truck and a crane from Krieg Construction is doing the lifting. I was amazed everything came through as it did.”
Michigan-based West Shore Services, Inc. installed the AHAB. Greg Gilchrist, the company’s vice president, said the 4,800-watt warning system operates by sound deflected off of each pod.
“The higher the pod, the greater the reach of the sound,” he said. “Six are active units and the bottom dish reflects everything up and out.”
Hollett said he expects the sound to be audible for at least a one-mile radius. The county will test the system on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The first test will involve a loud siren and a generic, prerecorded voice message. Hollett is soliciting input from the public to help ascertain the strength of the sound.
“After the tests, we want people to log onto our Web site, email us, or just call me, so I can see how far this goes,” he said. “I’m really curious.”
The equipment is powered by eight deep-cell batteries. The amount of power required to charge the batteries is minimal, merely a trickle, the DEM deputy director said. The county will be required to replace the batteries every four years. The state will pick up the rest of the tab.
Gilchrist said the county will send a list of scenario-specific messages to the company, which will then send back a sound chip containing the prerecorded messages. Hollett showed no disappointment in passing off the voice-over work to a DJ in Michigan. He was, however, visibly upset that James Earl Jones would not be handed the ball.
Once the system has been tested and is deemed fully operational, the county will lay out a testing schedule. Hollett said a Central Washington city blares the sound of cows mooing for its trial runs.
“It’s non-invasive and everyone knows that when it’s not the sound of mooing, it’s for real,” he said. “We need to figure out a sound that is specifically Oak Harbor.”
Hollett said the DEM will likely solicit ideas from the public to find the perfect test sound.
The DEM can be contacted through its Web site at http://islandcounty.net/gsa/des/index.html and by phone at 360-240-5572.