Fairhope looking to replace 'Big Bertha' downtown warning system

System that includes World War II era siren broke down during recent test


FAIRHOPE – City officials are seeking a grant to replace “Big Bertha,” a World War II surplus siren, and other elements of the downtown emergency warning system that recently stopped working.

The city is going out for a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a new system, Jessica Walker, community development director, said.

“It’s a way for us to replace the current warning system that we have,” she told City Council members. “We test it once a month on Tuesdays. It is currently triggered by lighting, which makes it inefficient, so it can go off at any time. When there’s not a hazard for it to go off for, people begin to not take it very seriously. It’s not very effective for us. It is a World War II era siren that we would need to replace.”

She said the estimated cost of the project is $43,260. The city would pay 25% of the cost.

Jeff Montgomery, city information technology director, said the new system would include speakers throughout the Central Business District.

“During the normal day, you could play music, but in the event of an emergency, we can alert folks if there’s a potential problem,” Montgomery said. “Another benefit is if we have a missing child at the Arts and Crafts Festival, we can put out an alert saying ‘hey, there’s a missing child, blue jeans, blue shirt, be on the lookout, if you see this person.’ That type of thing.”

He said the system could also be expanded in the future to cover other areas of the city, such as the pier and waterfront parks.

He said the system now being used is no longer working.

“The current system, our city employees refer to it as “Big Bertha,” It’s over there behind the Welcome Center. We had to go and shut it off during Sally. We had to actually get out there in the storm and shut it off because it was going off every few minutes,” Montgomery said.

“The current test that we had this past Tuesday failed, so we don’t have a working system right now. I’ve got to bring in Motorola to help fix the current issue that we have with it right now. It’s just a very old system,” he added.

Mayor Sherry Sullivan also said the system needs to be replaced.

“That’s been one of the things that I wanted to look at downtown is expanding the speaker system,” Sullivan said “Everybody knows that when we’re doing an event downtown or if you’re using it for notification, that it’s not very effective. It doesn’t cover all of downtown.”

She said the new system would not replace or affect the city’s program to send out warnings over smart phone apps and other services.