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VITEMA To Sound Sirens Across Territory Thursday Morning

With new tsunami warning sirens installed on all three islands, the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency will conduct the first operational test of the sirens on all three islands simultaneously 10 a.m. Thursday, VITEMA Executive Director Elton Lewis said during budget hearings Tuesday.

In autumn 2010, VITEMA bought a modern tsunami siren warning system to blanket the territory’s coastline, starting with highly populated areas, Lewis said. In June, VITEMA completed the first phase, with sirens installed at four sites each on St. Croix and St. Thomas and two on St. John, he said. On St. Croix, the sirens are at the D.C. Canegata Ball Park, the Christiansted Government Parking Lot, near the Legislative Building in Frederiksted and on Emancipation Drive in Frederiksted. On St. Thomas the sirens are at the Cyril E. King Airport, Emile Griffith Ballpark, the Yacht Haven Sugar Mill, and at the Red Hook Marina. The two sirens on St. John are in Cruz Bay next to the Legislature building and at the Fire House in Coral Bay. All of the locations can be viewed at the VITEMA website www.VITEMA.gov, which also has regular weather updates and preparedness information, Lewis said.

Lewis and VITEMA’s top brass were before the Senate Finance Committee to discus the agency’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request of $10.4 million, consisting of $4.9 million from the General Fund and $5.5 million from federal grants.

Of the federal grant funding, $3 million is considered “pass-through” capital outlays for WAPA hazard mitigation projects throughout the territory, Lewis said, leaving a total fiscal 2012 operating budget for VITEMA of $7.4 million, he said.

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VITEMA has 91 positions funded including 74 under the General Fund and 17 federally funded. Of the 74 funded by the General Fund, 47 are emergency 911 operator positions, with 22 on St. Croix and 23 on St. Thomas plus two district managers. That is a five-person reduction from last year, he said.

"We are able to sustain this reduction because we are instituting a change from a 12 hour shift to an 8 hour shift which results in cost savings of $209,000," said Lewis.

VITEMA projects total 2012 General Fund personnel wage and salary costs of $2.7 million with another $1.1 million for benefits. Under federal funding, VITEMA expects $782,000 in wages and salaries and $301,000 in benefits.

No votes were taken at the information-gathering hearing.

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