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Cornelius News

Sirens yesterday caught police and everyone else by surprise

Surprise: Silent alarm testing for McGuire Nuclear Station was inadvertently audible Thursday, Jan. 19, morning.

Jan. 20. By TL Bernthal. The Cornelius Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, along with the public, were surprised yesterday morning when the sirens sounded for an emergency at McGuire Nuclear Station.

The silent alarm testing sounded by accident when audible sirens were activated.

Law enforcement and other officials receive notification for all planned siren tests.

But the silent tests are not publicized.

Cornelius Police Chief David R. Baucom

“I was unaware about the weekly silent tests performed by the Charlotte Fire Department until today,” Police Chief David R. Baucom wrote in email Thursday night to Cornelius Today.

“We were surprised since we knew the planned siren test was scheduled for last week,” he said.

While Duke Energy owns and maintains the sirens around McGuire, the counties (emergency management) within the 10-mile zone around the plant are responsible for sounding the sirens and determining and communicating any public protection actions needed, to residents in that area, according to a Duke Energy spokeswoman.

In the moment

When the siren went off Thursday morning, Cornelius Police immediately checked and verified this was not a planned siren test for the plant in Huntersville, Baucom said.

“We contacted Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management to determine the cause of the siren going off.  We were told it was a silent test and the audible siren(s) were activated inadvertently.

“Charlotte Fire Department Communications is responsible for these tests, which are performed weekly and after the inadvertent audible activation a systemwide radio message was sent to affected users.

“This radio message was immediately relayed to our officers as well. Our 911 center also received calls and we informed callers we were in the process of verifying whether or not it was a test or an actual alarm until we verified it was in fact a test that inadvertently went audible,” Baucom said.

Police protocol for when sirens go off

If the sirens go off when there is not a planned test, Cornelius Police would do exactly what they did yesterday, which is to contact Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management to determine if there was an actual emergency.

If there was an emergency, Charlotte Mecklenburg Emergency Management would take charge of messaging to the public, and Cornelius Police would share that messaging with the public through their channels as well, the chief says.

“Beyond that we would follow the All-Hazards Plan for McGuire Nuclear Station,” Baucom says.  “Our agency, like others, participates in group training with both CMEM and McGuire on a regular basis.”

Advice to residents

If you hear the sirens again on a non-testing day, call 911 if you  are experiencing or witnessing some type of emergency,  but otherwise wait for messaging from CMEM and local law enforcement agencies, Baucom says.

“Residents can also sign up to receive messages from Char Meck Alerts, which can be helpful in a situation like this,” the chef says.

“As you can imagine there are a lot of working parts when an incident like this happens and even more so if there was an actual emergency.

“I assure you we will share any messaging we can, as quickly as we can, to ensure the public is informed,” Baucom says. “The safety and well-being of our community is always our highest priority, and this type of incident would not be treated any differently.”

From the county

“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Emergency Management Office is working closely with our partners to assist with conducting inquiries into what occurred and find ways to address any actionable items which will help to ensure an issue such as occurred yesterday does not happen in the future,” Elaney Katsafanas,  Emergency Management Planner, said in an email.

The issue originated with the Charlotte Fire Department, Communications Division.

“CMEMO is always working to enhance our preparedness capabilities with training and exercise opportunities. Any gaps that are found in the system or program from yesterday will be addressed in short order,” Katsafanas said.

The  Charlotte Fire Dept. did not reply to a request for information. We will update this story with information we receive.