Commissioners discussed the town's emergency notification system on Monday.
Longboat Key town commissioners discussed the possibility of adding emergency outdoor sirens to alert the public in the event of an emergency such as severe weather, but there was little indication the plan gained traction.
“During an emergency or dangerous event, the most pivotal step an organization can make is to quickly inform and alert people right away,” Fire Chief Paul Dezzi said.
During a recent presentation to Longboat Key commissioners, Dezzi said the town would need to install at least 10 sirens with a one placed every 0.25 to 1 mile apart for best effectiveness.
“That’s an assumption I don’t buy at all,” District 2 Commissioner George Spoll said.
Spoll said the town wouldn’t necessarily need that many sirens, motioning for the town to install them at its fire stations at 5490 Gulf of Mexico Drive and 2162 Gulf of Mexico Drive. No commissioner seconded Spoll’s motion.
“I understand that and I want the record to show that, that is the position that the commission has taken,” Spoll said.
Dezzi said the installation of each siren would cost between $25,000 and $40,000. Each system would cost between $4,000 and $7,000 in annual maintenance. Mayor Ken Schneier estimated it would cost the town about $300,000 to install sirens and about $100,000 each year to maintain them.
“These are expensive. They’re expensive to initially get,” Dezzi said. “They’re also expensive to maintain, but it’s not out of the question that maybe they can be used in certain parts of Longboat.”
Spoll said he’s been trying to get emergency sirens on the island for years.
“This is an issue that I have been working on and talking about since Bruce St. Denis was here,” Spoll said of the town manager who served before Tom Harmer's predecessor, Dave Bullock. “As a youngster, I had occasion to go through the state of Kansas and see firsthand as a child, what tornadoes can do.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s database shows Manatee and Sarasota counties have not had a tornado since 2018. Manatee County had an EF-0 tornado on Dec. 20, 2018. Sarasota County had an EF-0 on Oct. 10, 2018.
The last tornado stronger than an EF-0 in Sarasota or Manatee counties came on Feb. 24, 2016, when there was an EF-1 tornado in the unincorporated community Oak Knoll. In January 2016, Oak Knoll had a deadly EF-2 tornado that killed two people and injured four others.
The sirens — or any kind of emergency notification system for that matter — could be used to alert the public about other emergencies such as a hurricane, storm surge, tropical storm, water spout, flooding, gas leak, power outage boil water notice, civil disturbances or road conditions.
In May, the town began the transition to its new emergency notification system called Alert Longboat Key. Everbridge operates the system.
So far, 7,247 people have registered to use Alert Longboat Key from the old CodeRED system. It includes 4,848 residential landlines, 1,584 residential cell phones, 568 new web registrations, 556 business landlines, 76 business cell phones and 56 manual registrations.
On Monday, Dezzi also outlined how the town uses social media, its website and media outlets.
“It’s good to have multiple ways of getting notified,” Dezzi said.
Dezzi said he discussed the possibility of adding sirens with Manatee County Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer, Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane, NWS meteorologist Dan Noah, WWSB meteorologist Bob Harrigan, FOX13 meteorologist Paul Dellegatto and former FEMA director Craig Fugate.
Based on Dezzi’s conversations, he said the sirens are not designed to alert people inside their homes, in high-rise structures or if they have hurricane windows. Dezzi also mentioned how sirens do not tell people when it’s safe to go back outside.
Spoll still advocated for adding the sirens, saying they would awaken and alert people to get to safety in the event of an emergency.
“I want us all to understand reliance upon on things that people today have as communication items is part of the problem,” Spoll said. “The most devastating events occur during the nighttime hours when people are asleep.”
“When I was speaking with the resources I spoke with, what they were explaining to me was that tornadoes in Florida come on suddenly and they hit the ground and they leave right away,” Dezzi said. “They’re not like up in the Midwest where they stay on land for a period of time.”