Deadly Illinois Tornado Raises Concerns on Warnings in Rural Areas

April 24, 2015

A deadly tornado in the small northern Illinois community of Fairdale earlier this month is raising questions about how best to warn rural residents about storms.

Two people died in the storm. Fairdale, a community of about 150 people, has no outdoor warning system.

The State Journal-Register reports such systems aren’t required by law and are left up to municipalities. Sangamon County emergency management director David Butt said federal and state funding for warning systems has fallen since the 1990s, and a basic siren can cost more than $15,000.

Since it can’t afford an outdoor system, the village of Cantrall last year bought weather radios for $30 apiece for roughly 30 households. A tornado hit the village of 140 people in 1995.

“The radios have been nothing but positive, and I haven’t had a request for a siren or anything like that,” said village president Philip Holler.

Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said outdoor systems are only meant for people outside and might not wake up people like a weather radio would.

“That’s very similar to having a smoke detector,” Thompson said. “It will alert you even if you’re sound asleep.”

Thompson said people can get updates now through smartphone applications and TV updates. But Montgomery County emergency management coordinator Diana Holmes said sirens are important for older residents who might not have up-to-date technology. Two communities in the county are without sirens, she said.

“Not everybody carries a cellphone, and not everybody has a computer,” Holmes said.

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