Outdoor Warning System

July 28, 2015 02:44 PM
tornado_(Small)
 
On the evening of July 16, severe storms moved through West-Central Illinois.  Approximately seven miles west of Galesburg in Warren County, the small town of Cameron was struck head-on by an F-2 tornado.   Many of the municipalities in Knox County, including Galesburg, sounded their outdoor warning sirens to alert the public of the potentially dangerous situation.
 
In the days following, the Knox County Emergency Management Agency (KCEMA) received a handful of citizen reports regarding the failure of the warning siren to sound at Costa School in Galesburg.    This was confirmed by the computer-generated report on the siren control system at the Public Safety Building.  The KCEMA office also received questions regarding sirens in other communities.  
 
The outdoor warning sirens represent only one part of a broader public emergency notification system.  Other components include NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards, law enforcement, text notification networks, and the media.  Sirens are designed to alert citizens and visitors who are outdoors of an imminent hazard and prompt them to go indoors and seek further information.
  
Each municipality is responsible for setting off their respective sirens.  The KCEMA Coordinator, Galesburg Fire Chief Tom Simkins, with the assistance of the Galesburg Police Department, is tasked with the decision and direction to activate the 13 sirens in Galesburg only.  This responsibility in other municipalities in the county falls typically to the local fire or police department, mayor, village chairman, or other individual or group as assigned by the local officials.   At Lake Bracken, for instance, the fire station siren is set off by the golf course staff.  The KCEMA Coordinator has no ability to set off sirens in these other municipalities.  However, the KCEMA Coordinator does provide guidance on policy-making and planning for the entire county in regards to conditions that call for outdoor warning sirens to be activated.  The use of standard guidelines by all that mirror the National Weather Service (NWS) policies helps to reduce confusion in emergency situations.  
 
The standard guidelines for siren activation include a tornado warning by the NWS and/or a tornado or funnel cloud reported by a trained spotter.  Additionally, sirens are activated for severe thunderstorms with winds in excess of 70 mph (whole trees blown down) and/or golf ball-sized hail (1.75 inch diameter).  Hail begins to break windows at this size.   
 
Sirens are not sounded for severe lightning or flash floods, but may be used for non-weather emergencies such as hazardous materials releases, terrorism, and nuclear emergencies.   Typically, as in Galesburg, there is only 1 siren tone.  A short tone is used for testing and a longer tone of approximately 3-4 minutes is used for real emergencies.  It is important to note that there is no all-clear tone or siren.  Additional activations of the siren are an indication that the threat is still active.  
 
Siren testing is conducted on the first Tuesday of every month at 10:00 a.m.
 
The 13 sirens in Galesburg are polled electronically from the Public Safety Building on a daily basis to insure, as much as possible, that they are in working order.  However, given their position at the top of poles or structures and the fact that most of these are getting older, they are often subject to lightning and other malfunctions.  The KCEMA Coordinator works with local communications personnel to keep the repairs to a minimum.  
 
On July 15, the poll of the siren at Costa School showed a working siren.  However, the same siren failed its poll on July 16 prior to the severe storms moving through the area.   In addition, the siren at L.T. Stone School on West North Street has parts on order.  The siren at Silas Willard School will soon be relocated due to the construction of the new school building.  KCEMA welcomes information regarding non-operational outdoor weather sirens from the public and will continue to keep the public informed of changes as they occur. 
 
Contact: Chief Tom Simkins
Phone: 309/345-3756
 
 

 

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