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Capitol Building Commission approves sites for emergency siren arrays

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Capitol Building Commission members approved locations for two of four sites for emergency siren arrays on the Capitol Complex, part of a federal Homeland Security grant to upgrade emergency warning sirens in the Kanawha Valley.

Commissioners approved two locations – one attached to the Capitol Complex parking building on the northwest corner of campus, and one located at a complex parking lot at the corner of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue, east of the Capitol grounds.

However, the commissioners requested additional study to determine if locations for two other siren towers could be made less obtrusive.

The plan calls for the installation of two 40-foot-tall steel poles, with banks of three to eight loudspeakers, one to be installed behind the outdoor stage area, east of Building 3, also known as the DMV building, and one to be installed near the Holly Grove mansion, at the southwest corner of campus.

"I think there's a necessity to this, and I understand that. I would just like to minimize the visual impact," Supreme Court administrator Steve Canterbury said of the proposed siren arrays.

He asked whether it would be possible to install the sirens on the roof of Holly Grove, and onto Building 3, so they would be less noticeable.

David Hoge, state administrative director for Homeland Security, said the speakers need to be at a height of 40 feet, and placing them higher would make them less effective, creating "dead zones" on campus where people would not be able to hear emergency messages.

Unlike the current network of tonal sirens, which produce an air-raid sound, the new installations will have enunciating sirens, able to broadcast verbal alerts and other messages.

"It's to provide us with a wider range of options," Hoge said.

With the current system, which was installed in the 1980s primarily to warn of incidents at chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley, residents understand that when they hear the sirens, they are to shelter in place.

However, Hoge noted, in the event of an earthquake, people should do just the opposite, and the enunciating sirens would be able to alert residents to exit homes and buildings and seek open ground.

In addition to the Capitol grounds, the sirens will also serve the East End of Charleston and the University of Charleston campus, Hoge said.

Two of the four siren arrays will be directional, meaning that alerts can be directed to specific areas, such as the East End, or the UC campus.

Currently, there is one emergency siren located at the Capitol Complex, atop the Building 5 office tower, he said.

Canterbury said he had particular concerns with the proposed tower east of Building 3, in the heart of the Capitol grounds.

"It's going to be very, very clear we have a big industrial pole in the middle of trees and grass and stuff," he said. "I just think there has to be a way to hide this a little better."

Commissioners postponed action on the two locations until March 6 to give officials with Homeland Security, Historic Preservation, and the Department of Administration time to review alternatives.

Also Wednesday, commissioners approved plans by the state Division of Rehabilitation Services to renovate the kitchen area for the snack bar in Building 7, the Caperton Conference Center, located between the two office towers on the Capitol Complex.

The renovation will allow the snack bar to resume lunch service, featuring hot and cold sandwiches, pizza, flatbread, French fries and onion rings, and salads.

Currently, the snack bar features vending machines only. The snack bar will be operated by the same group that operates the food court in the Capitol building, under the Randolph Sheppard Act. Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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