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It’s that time of year where we get severe weather in Illinois, and we also get a lot of questions about our "Tornado Sirens". One of the most frequent comments that residents make regarding the sirens is that the residents cannot hear the sirens from inside their homes. For example, last week the Village experienced the potential for severe weather, and a tornado warning was issued--which caused the Village’s sirens to activate late at night...and in the days that followed, many residents commented that they did not hear the sirens and slept through the event. Today’s post shares some critical information that you need to know about severe weather and warning sirens.
Tornado sirens are more properly referred to as Outdoor Warning Sirens (OWS). If you’re interested in taking a deep dive, check out the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) page on OWS, available here. With modern building construction, homes have extensive insulation, double and triple-pane glass, and other features that help isolate outside noise. These same features work against anyone trying to hear an OWS from inside their house. Unless you are incredibly close to an OWS, you will not be able to hear it from indoors. According to NOAA, "Sirens are an outdoor warning system designed only to alert those who are outside that something dangerous is approaching."
OWS cost roughly $30,000-50,000 per tower for initial construction, plus additional costs to operate and maintain them. The Village only has a limited number, and they were positioned in areas that were thought to be best for notifying users of the Village’s larger open space areas (i.e. people that were outside). It is not possible to install enough OWS to blanket all of the Village, or to make the sirens audible from inside every resident’s home. If you can hear it from inside your home, that’s a rarity.
In the recent storm event, one siren failed to activate. Our sirens are remotely triggered by a 911 dispatch center. We are working through troubleshooting with that dispatch center to confirm why the siren did not activate, and to resolve the issue.
There are some free applications available for smartphones, that offer severe weather warnings. However, both the Village and NOAA strongly recommend that every home should have an NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio. There are many companies that offer these radios, and they can be very easily programmed with your location (country, state and county), so that when NOAA issues alerts, the weather will activate. It is like a fire detector for severe weather, notifying you of approaching storms. The radios are often customizable so that you can determine what alerts you do want to hear (e.g. tornado watch/warning, severe thunderstorm watch/warning) and what alerts you may be less interested in hearing (e.g. frost warning, etc.).
There are six weather radio frequencies, and you can select which frequency offers the best signal at your location. Typically, weather radios in Pingree Grove work best on Weather Channel #5 (162.500mHz), as that transmitter is located in nearby Crystal Lake. There are many reputable companies that offer alert weather radios, and a quality radio can be had for $30 or less. Programming takes all of five minutes, and sets the radio for your unique needs. While we do not endorse any specific manufacturer, here is one example of an emergency alert weather radio that one of our employees has in his office at the Municipal Center:
With a properly programmed radio, you can activate the local weather forecast (via radio) at any time. In the event of severe weather, the radio should alert with a loud sound, and start playing the severe weather alert message. This gives your family an invaluable time warning to seek shelter. Most emergency weather radios include a battery backup, so that they continue to operate even during power outages.
Check out NOAA’s website on severe weather preparation and tornado safety, available here, as well as their second page on the topic, available here.
Evaluate where the best place to seek shelter from a storm is, in advance of any severe weather. While a safe, corner location in a basement is preferable, if your home does not have a basement, consider using a closet or other enclosed area on an interior wall (preferably on the east side of the home). If possible, stock this location with some supplies, such as emergency lighting, water, a spare pair of shoes, a leash for your pet(s), a battery-powered weather radio, and an emergency cell phone charger that is battery powered. The most critical thing to do during a storm is seek shelter, in a predetermined, safe area as mentioned above. Once in place, hold on and protect your head. Always stay away from windows and open spaces. If you are in a vehicle or trailer, get out immediately and go to a more substantial structure. If there is no shelter nearby, lie flat in the nearest ditch, ravine or culvert with your hands shielding your head.
As noted above, OWS are of very limited usefulness for residents that are indoors. While we are always evaluating ways of making our community safer, the Village is not presently considering the installation of additional OWS.