On April 15th in Woodward, Oklahoma, six people lost their lives in a deadly tornado outbreak. The deaths happened in this small town, where tornado sirens failed to sound after lightning struck a control tower. But even when sirens are working, experts say they're not the best way to alert everyone.
" We have a lot of rural areas where there are only a couple of homes for miles" says Vicki Turner, with Peoria county emergency management. "Those areas aren't covered".
There are 80 sirens located in areas based on population in Peoria county.
In McLean county there are 28 sirens dedicated to the Bloomington/Normal area, with 27 other McLean county towns having at least one siren.
Both counties differ a bit when it comes to sounding sirens. Peoria county will sound sirens when a tornado warning is issued or when a spotter sees rotation or a funnel.
McLean county will only sound the siren when a spotter sees rotation or a funnel. Officials with the county tell us that sounding the siren when a warning is issued could be redundant.
It's a little different in Fulton county, where they have 17 sirens. Officials there say, with the exception of Farmington and Lewiston, they sound sirens not only during tornado warnings, but also when sustained winds reach 65 miles per hour because sustained winds at the velocity could be damaging.
Regardless of when the sirens sound, they won't reach everyone. That's why experts say it's crucial to have a weather radio.
"These are outdoor warning sirens. So when you're indoors, you're not really supposed to hear them" says Turner. "So for people who are inside, and even in the evenings and at night when they are sleeping, I definitely recommend getting weather alert radio".
So what can a weather radio do for you? It's as simple as putting a county identification code in for your location. When there is a warning in your area, the radio will sound an alarm.
There are also apps for smart phone and tablet users. Here at WMBD 31 and FOX 43, we offer a free text alert through our ciproud.com to go service. Just punch in your county and you will receive text alerts to your cell phone when a warning is issued.
Emergency managers say storm sirens are still life savers. Sirens sounded during the tornado that badly damaged downtown Elmwood almost two years ago.
"We were down here at the office, and we were looking at some of the radar, and we had spotters out in that area, and they did spot that tornado coming that way, so the sirens were activated" says Turner. "This probably gave people a couple of extra minutes to have some sheltering done."
The point is this. Storm sirens alone aren't enough to protect your loved ones. To be prepared, you need a weather radio or specialized smart phone app. They could save your life the next time severe weather strikes.
Other county protocols for siren activation.
Tazewell County: County has the capability to sound sirens, but leaves that up to each individual municipality to sound at their discretion. There is no protocol that they follow, but usually sound sirens when a tornado warning is issued.
Woodford County: The county is only in charge of sounding sirens in Roanoke. The rest of the communities sound the sirens at their own discretion. Like Tazewell county, there is on official protocol, but generally sound the sirens when a tornado warning is issued.
Marshall County: Every community has the authority to sound sirens for their individual town. In most cases, the Marshall county emergency manager will make the final call to avoid false alarms. The emergency manager will wait for spotter conformation in addition to a tornado warning before sounding any siren.
Stark County: 4 communities in the county have storm sirens. The fire department, law enforcement, and city and county emergency managers all have the authority to sound the sirens. There is no official set of guidelines to sound sirens, it is left up to the discretion of those in charge.
Livingston County: Each community is in charge of sounding their specific sirens. There is no county wide protocol for sounding sirens.
Knox County: The county has issued recommended guidelines, but the protocol is up to each individual community. The county recommends that sirens should be sounded when a tornado warning is issued, when rotation or a funnel/tornado is spottted, when predicted winds of storm are reach 75 miles per hour or greater, or golf ball sized hail (1.75") is detected.
Putnam County: 4 sirens total in the county. Sirens are sounded county wide when a tornado warning is issued, or when rotation or a funnel/tornado is spotted.
Programming your weather radio:
NOAA Weather Radio Illinois County Codes
WMBD 31/FOX 43 Free Text Alerts
In Fulton county you can also sign up for free text alerts for all hazards 2 different ways.
Text the word FC EOC to the number 888777
Click here to sign up for text alerts for Fulton county.