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Warning sirens silent

April 26, 2000


Amid Tuesday morning's din of bleating taxis, roaring buses and pedestrian chatter along North Michigan Avenue, something was missing.

The shriek of a tornado siren.

Chicago's new $2.3 million weather alert system was tested for the first time Tuesday--and it sputtered.

Eleven of the system's 110 sirens didn't work, leaving the Magnificent Mile and parts of Bridgeport, the South Loop, Uptown and other Chicago neighborhoods unwarned.

Though the test warning didn't reach hundreds of thousands of downtown office dwellers, city officials weren't discouraged.

"I have to say 90 percent success is pretty good," said Greg Bishop, acting director of the city's Office of Emergency Communications.

In the downtown area, sirens near Randolph and Dearborn, La Salle and Kinzie, and Ohio and State failed to operate. They are among roughly 12 sirens placed in a 2-mile radius of the Loop.

Tests showed that power to some of the sirens wasn't turned on. Other sirens, which operate over radio waves, were not tuned to the proper frequency. The contractor, Federal Signal Corp. of University Park, was ordered to fix the problems.

Mayor Daley announced the project in November 1993, but it was delayed six years by red tape, technical glitches and a reluctance by some residents to have the sirens placed near their homes.

"It's hard to set a firm schedule for a project that involves getting permits, getting power to sites, construction. Those can slow a project down," Bishop said, adding that because of concerns from some aldermen, some siren sites "were relocated and put in more optimum locations."

The city paid $1.3 million for the system; the rest was paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The sirens sit atop poles about one to two miles apart throughout Chicago, replacing a system installed in the 1950s to notify the public of air raids. The new system is hooked into the city's 911 center.

Once fully working, the system will be tested at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of every month.

During tests, such as the one at 10 a.m. Tuesday, the sirens will emit a steady tone for 30 seconds. In actual tornado alerts, the pitch of the sirens will go up and down in a wail.

The old system was deactivated more than three years ago, Bishop said. At the time, only 17 of the 87 sirens worked.

-- Martin Thompson (, April 26, 2000

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