Ashland County Office Building

Ashland County Office Building.

ASHLAND — Ashland County commissioners are keen on upgrading tornado sirens throughout the county.

EMA Director Mark Rafeld on Thursday asked commissioners for an extra $83,149 for the department’s 2022 appropriations.

The money would be used to update the county current warning siren system repeater technology, which currently utilizes old technology, Rafeld said.

“As any of you probably know, the county is migrating to a MARCS platform,” Rafeld said, referring to the state Multi-Agency Radio Communication System. The digital technology boasts stronger radio signals compared to the older VHF system.

Rafeld said the county's sheriff office and fire departments across the county already use MARCS, along with the City of Ashland's Police Division. 

Rafeld said this upgrade would complete the county’s switch from VHF to MARCS and wouldn’t include an additional monthly fee because it wouldn’t involve replacing sirens, just the “repeaters” that are used to activate them.

The county is responsible for 21 sirens that are scattered throughout Ashland. There are repeaters located in the northern, central and southern parts of the county.

The sirens include two located near Hillsdale and Mapleton school districts and two in Wayne County. Rafeld said Ashland has agreed to activate the Wayne County sirens through its repeaters.

Rafeld said the siren located on Ashland University is not included in this deal and he would need to speak to officials there to work something out.

If approved, the county would hire Vasu Communications, which has offices in Columbus and Mansfield. No decision was made Thursday.

Rafeld acknowledged the high price for the upgrades. But he put the cost into perspective.

“We have a lot of repairs to sirens, and part of that is because we have a lot of old sirens,” Rafeld said. But the fact remains it continues to be more economical to upgrade them versus replacing them, which he said cost up to $30,000 for a single new siren.

Rafeld noted commissioners could break the cost up into two years to phase in the new technology, but commissioners seemed eager Thursday to make the upgrade.

“When it comes down to safety from tornadoes, this is a priority,” said Commissioner Jim Justice. “I’m not in favor of splitting this up, I’d like to see this get done.”

Commissioners Denny Bittle and Mike Welch agreed.

“It’s just that time in our history that this stuff is old — it’s just time to get stuff updated,” Bittle said.

Rafeld said he doesn’t know how quickly the new MARCS-compatible technology could be installed, but said time is of the essence.

“Tornado season is everyday,” he said, referencing tornado-like winds affecting the area last month.

On Oct. 21, there were reports of a “weak” tornado touching down and warnings issued in Summit, Stark, Portage, Median, Wayne and Ashland counties.

A severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado was located near West Salem, or 10 miles northeast of Ashland, moving east at 35 mph at around 4:07 p.m. on that day, but there were no reports of injuries or property damage.

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