ST. JOSEPH — The decades-old sound of emergency sirens being tested the first Saturday of each month in a 10-mile radius around the Cook Nuclear Plant is now history.
The last test of the sirens, which were first installed in 1982, was on Jan. 2.
Instead, most residents will now receive the emergency warnings through their cell phones or some other electronic means, said Berrien County Sheriff’s Capt. Rockey Adams, commanding officer of the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division.
The new system will be tested at 3 p.m. on the first Friday of each month, starting on Feb. 5.
Detailed information about the new Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) can be found in the 2021 Cook Nuclear Plant calendar, which is mailed to residents within the 10-mile Emergency Planning Zone.
“There is a lot of great information in that calendar that is very much new,” Adams said. “We don’t want people to receive that calendar and think it’s the same old information and file it in a drawer without looking at it.”
A link to the 2021 calendar can be found by the end of this week at www.cookinfo.com/emergencyplan.aspx.
Cook Communication Manager Bill Downey said it is taking longer than usual to put in all of the new information, so the link currently goes to the old calendar.
Alerts will also be sent out through the county’s B-WARN! system, which includes landlines, emails and pagers, in addition to cell phones. Links to the pages on the Berrien County website explaining the two warning systems can be found on the county’s Facebook page at Berrien County Michigan-Government.
Adams said people may have to talk with their cell phone provider to find out how to turn the IPAWS notifications on and off.
“Some people are going to want to hear that test alert monthly, and I think that’s great so they have confidence in the system,” he said.
But he believes other people won’t want to hear the test alert every month. He said the test alerts can be turned off while leaving the real alert system on, because they are separate functions in the program.
Adams said the 70 sirens scattered throughout the 10-mile zone were a great way to alert people of an emergency, but now there are better ways.
Adams said some people couldn’t hear the sirens when they are inside their homes, while other people couldn’t hear them because of diminished hearing.
“We believe that we’re able to get the alerts into people’s houses a lot better through these systems to have more of an opportunity to wake them up,” he said.
Plus, he said the texted alerts will include detailed information regarding what people should do – something the sirens could never offer.
Adams said the county has been using the IPAWS system for years, with the plant recently receiving approval to use it for nuclear emergency alerts.
Cook Emergency Preparedness Manager Kevin Simpson said the sirens were replaced in 2008, but were starting to age and require more maintenance.
He said all of the sirens will be disabled by mid-February, with Indiana Michigan Power crews expected to remove them over the next year.
More information can be found online at www.bcsheriff.org on the Emergency Management & Homeland Security Division pages.
Anyone with questions can call the Cook Energy Information Center at 800-548-2555, or Berrien County Emergency Management at 983-7111, ext. 4915.