Dysart is one of the lucky Iowa communities with emergency sirens, keeping residents safe in the event of a dangerous weather event. But for many other communities, this is a luxury that hasn't been provided. One Marshall County woman is hoping to change all that.
Athena Valdez, of Melbourne, attended a city council meeting in her town to inquire about the possibility of installing sirens, and found that under Iowa law, towns are not required to provide emergency sirens regardless of size. Since then, she's made it her mission to rally public support behind this cause, and based on the response she's gotten, things may soon begin to change.
State Representative Dan Kelley (IA-41) recently sponsored a bill which would require Iowa towns to provide a functional emergency siren. The bill, HF408, has been met with mixed support in the legislature, according to Kelley.
An example of an emergency weather siren, similar to the one possessed by local towns like Dysart, Traer, Gladbrook, Clutier and Garwin is pictured above. Unfortunately, smaller communities like Buckingham, Lincoln and Geneseo do not have sirens to warn residents of dangerous weather conditions.
"Everyone is struggling a bit right now, including many rural communities, as the economy is not fully recovered," Kelley said. "But the way we've set up the bill is to provide those communities an opportunity to apply for a grant to help them cover the cost of purchasing and setting up sirens."
Here in Tama County, the communities of Traer, Gladbrook, Toledo, Clutier and Dysart have advised the Tama County Emergency Management Agency that they have functional sirens, according to Tama County EMA chief Ryan Currens.
Of these, all but Gladbrook have the ability to also be activated by the county in the case of an emergency. The county maintains additional sirens at Otter Creek, as well as the county fairgrounds.
But for smaller communities, this means residents are often left to their own devices when it comes to dangerous weather, be it weather radios or television broadcasts.
Lincoln, Geneseo and Buckingham all lack the sirens necessary to warn residents of dangerous weather approaching. For Valdez, the issue is one of local governments providing a service for taxpayers the same way a sewer, water or electric service is provided.
"There are many people in my community (Melbourne) and other local towns that are low income and can't afford to buy their own personal weather radios," Valdez said. "I have two children, and I cannot and will not put a price on their lives."
The major stumbing block has been the idea of the state mandating local communities to do something-in this case, installing sirens-but that concern is something Kelley is confident will be assuaged with the available funds from a $15 million Department of Homeland Security grant, and a three-year time period designed to give communities the chance to apply for grants to fully fund siren purchases and installation.
"The grant program would be available for a period of three years, and the mandate would not take effect until the end of that period," Kelley said. "There would be plenty of time and plenty of opportunity to step up to the plate."
State Senator Steve Sodders (IA-36) has also shown support for the measure, which will likely not be brought up for a vote until the next legislative session.