City officials debate when, when not to sound sirens
By Tom Larson
Deciding when -- and when not -- to blow the City of Morris' emergency alert siren has been debated in the community extensively since a severe wind and rain storm hit the area during the Stevens County Fair on Aug. 12.
The Morris City Council addressed the issue at its meeting Tuesday, and Morris police explained why the siren was not sounded and the complicated issues surrounding why it wasn't.
The storm, which included winds up to 75 miles per hour, blew into town quickly. Numerous trees were downed by the storm, some homes were damaged and debris was strewn around many neighborhoods.
On that night, there were several hundred people at the fairgrounds and more in the Pomme de Terre Park campground. There were complaints that adequate warnings were not issued and people scrambled to reach shelter at the fairgrounds.
Council members Bill Storck and Jeff Miller questioned why the siren wasn't used. Miller said he'd heard that the siren is only used in specific situations and that, some times, it leads people to venture out to see what's happening rather than heeding the warning to take shelter.
"If we use the siren and we warn them and they go out and something happens, it's their fault," Miller said. "If we don't warn them and they get hurt, then I think (the city) will be at fault."
But the decision to sound the siren is based on several factors, many of which were in play the night of the storm, said Morris Police Sgt. Ross Tiegs.
The siren is used when a Tornado Warning that directly includes the city is issued. Warnings aren't issued until National Weather Service information is confirmed by trained spotters who witness cloud rotations or other activity that signal that the formation of tornadoes is possible, Tiegs said.
A Tornado Warning, which was announced to expire at 6:45 p.m., was issued at 6:40 p.m. The warning was for areas in northeast Stevens County and did not include Morris, he said.
Spotters saw rotations in the storm, but that they were in areas that did not affect Morris, or were in areas where the storm had already passed the city, Tiegs said.
No official weather alerts issued for the city predicted straight-line winds, and police heard no warnings from counties or cities to the west of Stevens County indicating that high winds were part of the storm, Tiegs said.
Spotters have been sent out to monitor storm activity about a dozen times this spring and summer. Had the siren been sounded on every occasion, it's possible people would become complacent about the warnings, Tiegs said.
"We want to confirm that we have something serious," he said. "We want to err on the side of safety, but we don't want people to be so conditioned that they ignore it, too."