Flood sirens pass test

IT MAY have been their final ever official test, though judging by how long the debate about their future has run so far nothing can be guaranteed.Norfolk's flood sirens were turned on at the weekend for their main annual public inspection.

IT MAY have been their final ever official test, though judging by how long the debate about their future has run so far nothing can be guaranteed.

Norfolk's flood sirens were turned on at the weekend for their main annual public inspection.

While official figures are not yet available for how many of the 57 sirens successfully sounded on Saturday morning, last year seven failed.

The sirens are currently subject of a fierce debate about their future, with the Environment Agency insisting they are not necessary because of an alternative phone-based advance warning system and the police insisting they would not use them in an evacuation because they are old, unreliable and could cause panic.


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Campaigners want the sirens upgraded, adding that the floodline warnings direct phone system touted by the Agency is unfit for purpose because it is misunderstood and fails to reach all those who need to be warned.

The three-year debate was last aired in public at a meeting of Norfolk County Council's cabinet a week ago when the sirens were given yet another stay of execution. The timetable now sees January 31 2010 as the potential date for decommissioning.

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If campaigners are successful in their efforts to have updated sirens, by next August the current ones could not only be decommissioned, but replaced in some areas with brand mew multi-functional sirens. It could also go the other way and the sirens could have disappeared for good.

Efforts by the county council cabinet in the next few weeks will attempt to see if it is feasible for town and parish councils to take the sirens on themselves using a piece of law called the Sustainable Communities Act. But it is far from clear exactly what this means, whether the attempts will be successful and, if the parishes take control, whether they will be able to switch their 'own' sirens on.

Between then and now campaigners will press on with their fight, including hosting a visit from a provider of modern sirens which can provide multi hazard warnings. The modern sirens have pre recorded voice messages, a live public address facility and different siren tones to convey different information.

One of the campaigners' main criticisms of the county council is that no up to date costing for siren replacement has been carried out. It is hoped the visit from the Coventry based provider in question could help with a costing.

“That costing is one of the pieces of information we need now,” said Wells flood warden Mike Strong shortly after the four Wells area sirens sounded successfully on Saturday.

“And at least we feel that at last the county council has finally begun to listen to the fact that the floodline warnings direct is not robust and that it can't stand alone, which is what we have been driving at for so long.”

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