CHICAGO - Amibiguous Answers on False Alarm Glitch : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

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Title: Gurnee gets ambiguous answers on false alarm

Source: Chicago Daily Herald Publication date: 2000-05-10

Questions linger as to why a false public warning about a hazardous materials spill aired in Gurnee, which triggered at least 700 telephone calls to the police and fire departments.

Gurnee's year-old $400,000 siren-and-speaker warning system - an emergency device growing popular in many Lake County towns - was activated Monday afternoon to provide a prerecorded, villagewide announcement about a tornado watch.

Instead, sirens wailed and the hazardous materials announcement inadvertently aired on 12 speakers across Gurnee. Those who heard the recording - which came on after a button for the weather alert was pushed - were advised to remain inside, close their windows and turn off either air conditioners or heaters.

Technicians from BuCom Communications Inc. of Wauconda suspect an old power surge might have affected Gurnee's system and caused the wrong recording to sound. They gave the system a passing grade after examining it Tuesday at fire department headquarters.

Still, Fire Chief Fred Friedl said, the fact remains that the technicians do not know for sure why the system went haywire.

"We're not comfortable," Friedl said. "We would have liked something more specific for an answer."

Gurnee's 911 emergency lines received about 95 calls over three hours following the incident at 3:30 p.m. Monday, said communications director Al Marquardt. He said another 600 were logged on the police and fire departments' nonemergency numbers.

Village hall also was besieged by inquiries.

Marquardt said Gurnee's emergency service response was not affected by the heavy call volume.

"We were able to handle everything and weed out what we could," said Marquardt.

BuCom installed the Whelen Engineering Co. system that's used in other Lake County towns such as Libertyville and Vernon Hills. BuCom President Wally Mitchell said Gurnee was the first village where the state-of-the-art warning system malfunctioned.

Mitchell said BuCom plans to install additional protection against power surges on Gurnee's computer and microprocessor, which control the speakers and sirens.

"It's a high-profile system," Mitchell said. "When it doesn't work - oops - everybody knows about it."

Friedl said if Six Flags Great America had been open during Monday's bogus hazardous materials scare, operating procedures would have called for immediate and direct fire department communications with the park.

Regardless of the glitch, the new warning systems beat the old air- raid sirens they replaced, said James Schultz, Lake County Emergency Management Agency coordinator.


-- (, May 13, 2000

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