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Sugar Hill to install six weather warning signals

SUGAR HILL -- The self-proclaimed Recreation City, Sugar Hill soon will be a safer city in which to recreate.

Announced at Monday's monthly city council meeting was recent delivery of six weather warning sirens to be stationed throughout Gwinnett's third largest city. Roughly six feet tall and four feet in diameter, they'll be mounted atop telephone poles beginning Thursday.

Locations will be as far north as Gary Pirkle Park, as far south as North Price Road and as far east as Ga. Highway 20 near Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. The western-most one will be installed at Sugar Hill Golf Course, the city's highest point.

The independently powered sirens will be networked to satellites from an antenna atop city hall on West Broad Street downtown and activated by the National Weather Service. In addition to siren warning, the system can alert via text message, fax and email. City personnel also can activate the system should it perceive dangerous weather before agencies do.

Sirens will wail steadily for three minutes to notify of severe weather and for 10-second intervals if tornados are cited. The city plans to test the sirens city-wide on Oct. 7.

The sirens were paid for by a $136,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sirens for Cities, the Jonesboro company from which Sugar Hill bought the system, recommended where to place the sirens to best alert schools, daycare facilities and residents. The sirens will notify not only Sugar Hill's roughly 18,500 residents, but also neighbors in Gwinnett County, Buford and Suwanee.

"We're actually warning between 38,000 and 40,000 people," City Manager Bob Hail said. "These will benefit more than just Sugar Hill residents. Schools train kids what to do (in dangerous weather), but now they're going to be warned as well."

The sirens complement an emergency call box recently installed at Pirkle Park. The call box was donated by Right to Hike, the organization that celebrates the life of slain hiker Meredith Emerson.

Sugar Hill's Community Relations Director Don Kelemen said the warning system will be particularly vital to people in parks.

"With a couple thousand people out there at any one time, if they hear the sirens go off, they know to take cover," he said.

In a sepearate development at Monday's meeting, the council voted to approve architect Precision Planning's request for roughly 20 percent more in fees to design the new city hall on West Broad Street and Temple Drive downtown. Precision requested its $404,000 fee be increased to $500,000 because the size of the three-story hall had increased by about 28 percent and its budget grew from $7.9 million to some $10 million.