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Warning sirens on the agenda in Wellesley

A photograph by an aerial drone of the Wideman property in Hawkesville, after the tornado struck. In the bottom left is the implement shed that was obliterated by the winds, with pieces of debris seen scattered across the fields. [Nate Leis / Submitted]
A photograph by an aerial drone of the Wideman property in Hawkesville, after the tornado struck. In the bottom left is the implement shed that was obliterated by the winds, with pieces of debris seen scattered across the fields. [Nate Leis / Submitted]

Wellesley Township is looking at installing warning sirens in the wake of a tornado that hit the Hawkesville area last month.

The follow-up review of the situation was part of Tuesday night’s council meeting in Crosshill.

Responding to resident concerns, officials discussed various measures for alerting the public.

According to a report prepared by Wellesley fire chief Paul Redman, the township does have an emergency alert system in place that notifies the public through television and radio. There is also work being done with the Region of Waterloo to include automatic telephone warnings as well, similar to the community alert network in place in neighbouring Woolwich Township.

Officials have concerns, however, about the limitations of a phone-based notification system given its dependency on technology.

“Many of our townships residents do not have telephones, computers and televisions let alone power in their homes,” reads the report.

The emergency sirens, on the other hand, if implemented would negate those constraints, and give people, whether they are in their homes or outside.

A rough estimate received from Spectrum Communications puts the cost per siren at $80,000 to $100,000, depending on the type of equipment. The audible range for the sirens would be between 30 metres and 3.2 kilometres, depending on the type. Maintenance is put at $15,000 to $20,000 a year, with the sirens having an expected lifespan of 10 to 15 years.

Coun. Herb Neher expressed surprise at the cost of emergency sirens, saying it was far higher than he would have expected.

The council accepted the report, though for the moment will be taking no further action on implementing an emergency siren system.

The tornado in Hawkesville on August 11 had caught those residents in its path completely off-guard. One resident, Naomi Wideman, told the Observer afterwards that the storm had been as sudden as it was dramatic.

The family’s farm was in the direct path of the EF2 tornado, which struck their property so quickly and with so little warning that some of her children did not even have time to get inside the house when it happened, having to take shelter in nearby sheds. Fortunately, though there was significant property damage, no one was harmed and the family home was largely undamaged.

According to information provided by Environment Canada, the region has not seen many tornados of the magnitude of the one that hit Hawesville last month. The last tornado with 180 km/h winds or faster to hit Waterloo Region was in 1983 in Cambridge; before that was 1967 in St. Jacobs.

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