Written by Jerry Engler Wednesday, 04 June 2008 09:22
The cities of Marion County all have tornado warning systems, but they aren’t consistent and also vary in what they offer.
As one woman in one smaller town said, “The real system here is to run for your basement, and pray.”
Michele Abbott-Becker, director of Marion County Emergency Management, said the county has no single tornado-shelter plan directed by local or state laws. Instead, each city acts independently, and is free to implement its own plan.
Some cities have officially designated public storm shelters with persons in charge of opening them. Others do not.
Abbott-Becker said storm spotters for some cities, such as Peabody, Lincolnville, Pilsen and Tampa, carry radios with codes that allow them to set off city sirens by radio if they spot something.
In other cities, somebody may have to go to a central point to throw a switch, she said.
There does seem to be more consistency in the tornado siren signal—usually a long, continuous siren for the warning and one to three short blasts for the “all-clear.”
Abbott-Becker said every city has persons designated to telephone institutions such as schools and nursing homes for more direct warning.
Officials discourage handing out lists of who calls what institution because of liability issues.
Around the county
At Peabody, City Administrator Jeff Benbrook said that other than the storm spotters setting off the siren, the fire chief is responsible for it.
He said the city has designated Red Cross shelters at the grammar school and the United Methodist Church, but those are for general disasters of all kinds where the Red Cross might give aid.
For instance, Benbrook said, they were used to serve public meals during the winter ice storm.
“Obviously, in a real tornado emergency we would send people wherever we need to go to save them,” he said. “We have the Legacy Park facility and other churches with basements in town.”
At Florence, City Clerk Janet Robinson said all churches in town are designated storm shelters, but responsibility varies for opening them.
At Lincolnville, City Clerk Jane Pigorsch said no tornado shelters have been designated. Private citizens, however, were able to open some facilities for visitors seeking shelter off U.S. Highway 77/56 during the last severe-weather event.
At Tampa, Mayor Jim said it is important that storm spotters be able to start the siren from radios, but the switch also can be thrown manually.
He said Tampa has no designated storm shelters in town, but the local grain elevator basement can be made available.
Both Hillsboro Mayor Delores Dalke and Marion City Manager David Mayfield referred to printed disaster manuals regarding storm response.
The manual for Hillsboro states that designated storm shelters are the Scout House basement in Memorial Park, the Trinity Mennonite Church basement, the Tabor College Gym basement, the Lutheran Church basement, and Hillsboro Dental Care at Grand and Washington streets.
Persons have been identified for each facility to call for opening them in threatening weather.
At Trinity, it’s Orlan Koehn at 947-3818 or 970-381-7049, or Lyle Funk at 947-3428 or 620-382-5305, or Arlen Riesen at 947-3655.
For Tabor, call Kirby Fadenrecht at 947-2267 or 620-877-7368, or Terry Pritchett at 947-0147 or 620-382-6591.
For the Lutheran Church, call Raymond Matz at 947-3609 or Dale Nuss at 947-3411.
For Hillsboro Dental call 947-0050.
Mayfield said Marion Police are responsible to activate the tornado siren, and to open the Marion City Building as a designated shelter. Eastmoor United Methodist Church also is a designated shelter. The police station itself can be used as a backup.
At Durham, Mayor Glennon Crowther said the town doesn’t have a siren, but city fire trucks sound their sirens if a tornado is approaching.
Durham doesn’t have officially designated storm shelters, but Agri-Producers Inc. has given him a key to use the basement under the grain elevator’s office if needed. Crowther said the Baptist Church basement also could be used.
At Burns, Earl Glenn, who is the mayor’s husband and does community maintenance work, said the children’s play room in the new community center is the town’s designated storm shelter.
“We cemented the sides, the top and the bottom, so it’s the strongest tornado shelter in town,” he said.
Glenn said the basement of the Methodist Church may also be used for shelter.
Burns has a city siren system that can be set off by firefighters and other emergency personnel through a system that keys them in from home, he said.
Pat Wick, mayor of Ramona, said that community does not have a public place for people to go in threatening weather.
“We used to have a church a little over a mile out of town that had a basement where we could go to, but now we don’t have that,” she said. “So it would only be private homes that have basements. We keep track of those so we would know where to go in an emergency.”
The community does have a siren system, and the fire truck drives up and down the street with its siren going to warn people.
“A small town of five blocks—they can do that,” she said.
At Marion Reservoir, a spokesman at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office confirmed there is no siren system or storm shelter, although he knew some other Corps lakes do have shelters.
He said campers left the reservoir Memorial Weekend when water spouts passed across the lake surface.
At Lost Springs, Mayor Steve Seifert said the city is working on grant money for a city siren system, but for the time being, the warning is sounded by fire trucks.
He said the elementary school is the designated storm shelter, and that he, some school officials and a few others have been given keys to open it in emergency.
Seifert said Lost Springs is also working on grants to place two storm shelters, one on each side of the town, that would hold 40 to 50 persons each.