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Mt. Pleasant's new siren is tool of proactive protection

| Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

It's been nearly three years since an F2 tornado tore through Hempfield and Sewickley townships in Westmoreland County, leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

Although no fatalities or injuries were reported, the natural disaster on March 23, 2011, destroyed or badly ravaged approximately 90 homes, along with buildings at Hempfield Area School District, and caused an estimated $4.5 million in damages.

In the aftermath, a number of county municipalities began taking action to better prepare for such events in the future, including Mt. Pleasant Borough, according to Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

“Preparedness is something people need to take seriously,” said Stevens during National Severe Weather Preparedness Week from March 2-8.

“Having any type of early notification is a huge plus,” he said.

With that in mind, borough council and its administration in 2011 applied for and received a $5,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development for the purchase of a severe weather alert siren.

Employees of Turik's Electric of Herminie installed the device, purchased from Federal Signal Corp. of University Park, Ill., atop the borough's municipal building.

It will be used to warn borough residents of any possible emergencies related to tornadoes, damaging winds or earthquakes.

“We don't want what happened in Hempfield Township to happen here,” said borough Mayor Jerry Lucia previously. Lucia also serves as the borough's volunteer fire chief and its emergency management coordinator.

Stevens said the addition of the device is to be commended.

“This is another way in which another community of Westmoreland County is getting better prepared and is better assuring the safety and well-being of its residents,” he said. “Jerry has been around a long time. He wears multiple hats, and he's always thinking of the future and learning from the past, not only based on what's happened area-wide, but county-wide, as well.”

Lucia said the siren will be tested at noon on Saturdays.

“They have to get people educated on what it sounds like, and we'll work closely with them, but obviously they will be handling the details on that end of things,” Stevens said.

The device's long, bright wail, rises and falls in volume on a repeating basis when engaged.

Its sound runs starkly counter to the punchy honk of the fire department's siren, which is activated to alert volunteer firefighters and Mt. Pleasant Medic 10 crews to area emergencies such as house fires and automobile accidents.

Regarding the kinds of events to which the newly installed siren is designed to alert borough residents, Stevens stressed that it is important for responses to such potential calamities start at home.

“It can take the state or federal government a minimum of 72 hours to provide assistance, and in more rural municipalities it is even tougher because they are often so large,” he said.

And it's not just natural disasters which can affect a municipality like Mt. Pleasant, Stevens said.

“Lets go back to 2001 ... we have information that can clearly put (United Airlines) Flight 93 in the skies over Mt. Pleasant on 9/11,” he said.

State Rep. Deberah Kula, D-Fayette/Westmoreland, who maintains a local office inside the borough building, proved pivotal in aiding borough leaders in acquiring the funding necessary to purchase the new siren.

“They submitted the grant, and I was able to lend my support as the representative of that area to this particular project,” Kula said. “When you look at Mt. Pleasant's track record as far as assuring the safety and welfare of that community, they've done an excellent job, and they continue to look for ways to improve.”

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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