Mixed messages on terror attack
County sirens go off in tribute, not warning
by Al Sullivan
Reporter staff writer
Sep 22, 2011 | 1372 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SIRENS SOUNDED ON 9/11 – Reaction to the emergency alert sirens on 9/11 largely depended on what people knew in advance, although even some of those who knew about the tribute found the sound eerie.
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With the nation reportedly under threat of a terrorist attack around Sept. 11, some residents have questioned the wisdom of allowing the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management to set off alarms recently in tribute to the victims of the tragedy.

There are eight sirens in Jersey City, four in Bayonne, one in Hoboken by the downtown PATH station, and one in Weehawken by the New York Waterway ferry terminal, and others located throughout northern Hudson and Secaucus. They were funded with a $795,000 Homeland Security grant from 2006.

The alarms went off countywide at 1 p.m. on Sept. 11 as part of a regional tribute to those who died during the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“I voiced my concerns from the first time it was brought up at a freeholder meeting.” – Doreen DiDomenico
The sirens were installed two years ago throughout Hudson County as a backup warning system in case other means of alerting residents to a pending emergency failed. Very similar to the sirens used as part of Civil Defense after World War II to warn of a pending nuclear attack, they were heard all over the county by numerous residents.

Those who were aware of the tribute found them a moving way to commemorate the men and women who perished on 9/11. But many were startled, and raised questions on Facebook and other social media sites as to whether or not the terrorists had succeeded in carrying out their threat.

In Bayonne, people came out into the streets wondering what the sirens meant. There was a similar reaction in Jersey City Heights.

Facebook chatter also expressed confusion and concern.

“I knew they were going to go off today but when I heard them, my girlfriend and I both thought that something bad must be happening,” said one person posting on a reporter’s Facebook page. “We high-tailed it home.”

Another Facebook friend called it “well-intentioned, but sheer stupidity.”

Several people thought it was a strange way to observe a moment of silence.

While residents may have complained about it on Facebook and at several public locations later, the County Executive’s Office said it received no complains.

County spokesman Jim Kennelly said it wasn’t the county’s idea.

“The County’s Office of Emergency Management was invited by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg to take part in the New York metro-area-wide 9/11 Moment of Remembrance,” he said. “Numerous fire companies, churches and other civic and governmental entities took part in this event throughout the New York-New Jersey Metro area. It was endorsed by all four of the two states’ U.S. Senators.”

Freeholder Chairman Bill O’Dea said a letter was passed to freeholders and municipal mayors from the County Executive’s Office, letting them know the sirens would be set off. But some freeholders said they thought residents might believe another terrorist attack was underway.

Homeland security officials, President Barack Obama, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others had been warning people to be aware of a potential attack on 9/11, saying that there was credible evidence to suggest that terrorists were planning an attack.

Indeed, New York/New Jersey security officials were concerned about several vans reported missing by residents and other entities, one from a rental lot in Jersey City, which might be used in an attempt to blow up one of the tunnels under the Hudson River.

Bayonne resident Tom Solari called the alarms a stupid idea.

“I live on 54th Street, and everybody came running out of their houses to see what was going on,” he said, noting that the sirens were sounded at the worst possible time. “Especially when there was a no-fly zone and we were all at the highest security level since Sept.11, 2001.”

Sirens installed at critical places in Hudson County

When installing the siren system in 2009, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, in his role as the planner for the Hudson County Office of Emergency Management, said the new emergency sirens would be activated in the event of a catastrophic emergency when residents need to receive critical information.

In most cases, the sirens will alert residents to tune into a county AM radio station, which will give them the necessary information. The speakers can also give voice commands or be configured with local broadcast systems, such as a city-run cable TV station where local information can be issued.

Freeholders had raised questions

Freeholder Chairman O’Dea and Bayonne Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico said they had been concerned about the sirens.

“The Freeholder Board agreed that we should commemorate the day and join in the National Moment of Remembrance, but I did express my objection to using emergency sirens as the means of remembrance,” DiDomenico said.

She said Sen. Lautenberg sponsored the measure in the United States Senate and received a significant amount of support to the effort.

“The county executive issued a statement to the freeholders and all municipalities asking them to spread the word that this would be a way of coming together for remembrance, but not as a way to alarm anyone,” she said.

But DiDomenico said she clearly expressed her objections that not everybody could be notified in time.

“I voiced my concerns from the first time it was brought up at a freeholder meeting that we participate in a National Moment of Remembrance,” DiDomenico said. “I have no issue with taking the collective moment to remember, but I thought that emergency sirens were not the best choice to commemorate this moment.”

A statement issued by the County Executive’s Office said this was a joint effort supported by the freeholder board:

“The Hudson County Office of Emergency Management at the behest of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg and by order of a resolution passed by the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders, proudly participated in the 9/11 Moment of Remembrance,” it said. “The HCOEM’s participation, like that of many other emergency services, fire and rescue and churches that participated in the Moment of Remembrance, was clearly chronicled in advance of the event to allay any concerns by citizens about the sounding of our sirens. Anyone with concerns about HCOEM’s participation should visit: http://lautenberg.senate.gov/stopandremember/ to better understand the larger event that the sirens were one small part of when they sounded at 1 p.m.”

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