(Original Publication: October 19, 2005)

Stay informed

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano yesterday announced a plan to hook county residents up to information about possible emergencies via their e-mail and text messaging. Spano said residents who sign up would be able to receive information about major storms or some other disaster, including what they might need to do or where they should go. The system would supplement county information distributed through the media and other outlets. For more information, log on to and click on the emergency banner at the top of the page. All information will be kept confidential.

A four-county test of Indian Point’s emergency siren system turned up problems for the second consecutive month yesterday when 10 of Orange County’s 16 sirens failed to sound during a morning check of the notification network’s backup system.

All but four of the system’s 156 sirens worked during a test of the primary network that was held 30 minutes later but officials from Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange counties expressed concern about a wholesale failure for one county after a similar event occurred Sept. 14 in Rockland.

“I’m outraged. We have to have this fixed immediately. We need redundancy in our system,” Orange County Executive Edward Diana said late yesterday afternoon. “I’m sending a letter out now demanding another test in the next 30 days and a review by the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) of what is done on the system between now and then.”

Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy Nuclear Northeast, which owns the Buchanan nuclear plants, said the company was still sorting out what went wrong yesterday.

“He’s right, of course,” Steets said of Diana’s comments. “We need to do something to reassure everyone that the siren system will work.”

Steets said the company had tracked down the causes of software problems from last month’s failure and earlier siren problems and had rectified those, but yesterday’s malfunction hadn’t shown a definitive cause.

Steets said the problem appears to have been with the backup radio transmission to the 10 malfunctioning sirens, which might indicate that there was a frequency problem. The sirens worked when the system was tested without the back-up radios.

He acknowledged, however, that a problem with controlling the sirens cropped up when Orange County officials tried to push their backup system button a second time and ended up sounding Putnam County’s sirens.

“That will be thoroughly discussed (tomorrow) morning,” said Adam Stiebeling, Putnam’s top emergency management official for Indian Point. “We need to verify that the siren software is working properly.”

The four counties within the 10-mile evacuation zone of the nuclear plants have already agreed to meet with Entergy officials on the sirens, to see what progress the company has made in its vow to replace the decades-old system. Now that meeting will include significant discussion of the past as well as the future.

Anthony Sutton, Westchester’s top emergency management official, said the mix-up of which county could activate which sirens presents a new problem.

“That’s disturbing to us,” Sutton said. “We want to get to the root cause of what happened in that case, and we want to ensure that no one else can break into the system and set off the sirens.”

In an emergency, the sirens are supposed to rotate several times, notifying residents in all directions to turn on radios and televisions for more information.

Rockland officials were visibly relieved yesterday as they tested the sirens at the county’s emergency management center and were able to hear the undulating high-pitched hum out the back door of the building. However, they weren’t happy to learn that the Lower Hudson Valley’s problem had moved from them to their neighbors in Orange County.

“They have a real problem with the system,” Rockland emergency official Dan Greeley said of Entergy. “And they’re going to have to do something to repair it until it can be replaced.”