By Stephanie Malench
On Saturday, March 27 at a little after 7:00 p.m. a tornado touched down on the northeast side of St. Jacob off Marine Rd. Unfortunately, the community had no warning because the tornado sirens in St. Jacob did not go off. The EF1 tornado caused property damage, but there were no known injuries. The siren is supposed to be activated whenever the Troy siren is activated, but was reported to have not been set off early enough according to a post on the official Village of St. Jacob Facebook Page St. Jacob Pride.
The failure on Saturday night for the warning to be issued could have also been a result of human error or mismanagement.
Residents expressed outrage on social media about the sirens not working when there can be no margin of error and every second counts.
In a message on the community Facebook pages St. Jacob Pride and Out & About in St. Jacob, IL, Sunday morning, Village Trustee Jamie Runion, Chair of the Health and Community said the incident was being investigated and a call had been placed to the Troy police supervisor on call Saturday night. St. Jacob’s sirens were tested twice on Monday by the Troy police and were working.
Mayor Richard Schiefer reported on March 30 that he was still waiting to hear from Village Attorney James Craney, but that Troy set off the St. Jacob sirens at the same time that they set theirs off.
Schiefer said “everything went the way it was supposed to, people just didn’t hear them”.
“I don’t set them off. We’re not there at the Village Hall 24/7. I don’t know why everyone is so upset” Schiefer said in response to the outrage on Facebook.
He added that Troy said the sirens are not meant to be heard inside and that is why residents need to install the Code Red app on their cell phones.
Many people who had the Code Red System on their cell phone or were inside near a radio, television, or computer were able to take cover. Unfortunately, not everyone has a cell phone to have Code Red, especially older adults.
Among those who were outside were a 7-year-old child and a farmer plowing his field. Both knew to listen for the siren to know when danger was approaching, but never heard the siren.
Due to significant concerns that a single link of activation from the Troy Police Dispatcher could fail, the Village of St. Jacob implemented a redundant process in 2006 to activate the early warning system. This redundant process was controlled by administrators in the Village government. The system served as an extra layer of preparedness in the event Troy did not activate the siren Staff in charge of the siren were trained by the Illinois Emergency Management Association on how to track a storm.
The system was a phone number that ten employees had access to that would activate the siren with the touch of a single button. The hierarchy of administrators that could sound the alarm were the mayor, the police chief or officer on duty, the public works director, then the village clerk.
Each department had a weather radio which could be taken home with the on-call staff after hours. Once the notice was received on the radio from the weather bureau that St. Jacob was in the storm track, the staff in those departments that controlled the program would set off the siren working their way down the chain of command from the top until someone was available. Most of the time it was set off by then mayor Raymond Muñiz.
Because it was accessible by cell phone, the siren could be sounded from anywhere without having to go to the Village Hall. The weather radio/app was monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
The early warning system would sometimes be set off as early as 30 minutes in advance if St. Jacob was mentioned as a possible hit and served as an extra layer of protection in the event the Troy siren did not go off in time, as was the case this past Saturday. The siren was also sounded a second time when the National Weather Service gave the all clear. The siren is currently located by the Mill Pond, just south of Highway 40 and Douglas St. According to one resident “I’d rather have an early warning that when it’s too late.”
The highly effective process was put into place for the safety of the community, but was abandoned in 2013 when current mayor Schiefer took office.
Larry Morietta, Police Chief of St. Jacob for 38 years said in the 11 years the system was in place under the early warning system was activated at least 12 times and worked very well. Morietta said that Saturday the warning “should have been sounded. It was bad here”.