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Village Changes Storm Siren Policy, Discusses Storm Aftermath

If storm conditions like June 21 happen again, Downers Grove residents will now hear a siren. And while storm cleanup is almost done, many trees are gone.

After the June 21 tornado came and went with no siren notification, the village changed the policy, broadening the criteria for sounding the siren. The new policy and the village’s overall storm response were the main focus of Tuesday's Village Council meeting.

The new siren policy went into effect July 1. “These changes allow staff to activate the siren during the conditions that were present on June 21, including the National Weather Service issuance of a blanket tornado warning when there is no visual confirmation of a tornado,” said Village Manager Dave Fieldman.

“The new policy allows staff to activate the sirens based on info available form multiple weather reporting sources and is consistent with the technology that is now being used in the industry,” he said.

On June 21, a two-minute tornado traveled just over two miles on the southwest side of Downers Grove, and strong winds caused major tree damage and power outages. But, under the old policy, the storm didn’t meet the criteria, which are based on guidelines for the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security.

The old criteria required a confirmed sighting or National Weather Service determination that the village is in the direct path or a tornado. The sirens were to be activated for three minutes, per qualified event, and no “all clear” signal would be given.

After the storm, however, the village decided that the criteria were too limited and that they should be amended so that if a similar situation occurs again—a tornado or high winds—the siren can be sounded.

Beyond the siren issue, commissioners and residents have thanked the village repeatedly for their efficient response to the storm.

There was no such gratitude towards ComEd. During public comment, one resident said he’d like the village to bring a lawsuit against ComEd. He’s lost power 77 times in a little over a decade and has lost it for six days so far this year.

Fieldman said that the day after the storm 6,600 ComEd customers were without power. Two days later, 4,500 were without power; and the next day, it was down to 200.

After the storm, the village had to remove 120 parkway trees, and extensive damage was done to trees on private property.

The village has had two special tree debris collection dates, and village crews have been working 12-hour shifts since June 21 and expect to continue double shifts until July 8.

Fieldman said the storm response cost the village an estimated $300,000-$500,000 with contractual services and unanticipated staff overtime.

It will cost the village $50,000 to replant the 120 damaged parkway trees. That money would come form the general fund reserves, as well as any possible grants or reimbursements, Fieldman said.

Commissioner Bob Barnett noted that the village’s response was great, and urged people to keep that in mind when the budget cut and basic services issue comes up next. “Rapid recovery is an incumbent responsibility for us.”

Commissioner Sean Durkin said that he truly supported what staff did, but doesn’t want the village “to become too trigger happy,” and sound the siren unnecessarily.

Other news:

Three contracts were awarded for Pershing Avenue storm sewer improvements, and sidewalk replacement and rehabilitation projects.  

The council had a first read on a potential $387,750 project to stabilize various sections of the St. Joseph Creek banks.

DHD July 06, 2011 at 02:45 PM
This is good news about the new siren rules. These new rules are sensible and will go a long way towards preventing injury or even loss of life in the future. I also agree the storm cleanup has been excellent.
William Vollrath July 06, 2011 at 03:07 PM
Glad to hear the siren policy was changed to better protect citizens. Protocol may have been followed, but citizens clearly found it to be questionable protocol, at best. Also, I was under the impression pickup of storm damaged limbs was over, but it appears there are many broken branches still needing to be cut and removed?
Dom July 06, 2011 at 04:10 PM
I was at the Main street train station at 9:30 that night and I heard a siren. Several of us were in front of the Tivoli preparing the street for the fest. Asking people to move there cars. And we heard a siren going off.
DHD July 06, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Dom, the Village admitted they didn't sound the sirens. The siren you heard was from another town.
Bruce Beckman July 06, 2011 at 09:08 PM
I also am pleased to see a modifcation to the old policy. However I believe we need to look at this as an opportunity to review the larger question of effective communitions to the community in time fo emergency. Use of sirens is but one tool now available or can be available to community. The establishment of a public safety radio station (the 1600 am band), the existing reverse 911 calling tree or building a plan via the newer social networks are but three options that, in my opinion should be reviewed by the Public Safety Committee.
Cinda K. Lester July 07, 2011 at 12:00 AM
I agree with Bruce on this. Sirens are useful, but not the end-all-be-all of warning systems. If everyone had been inside with windows closed and a/c on, anyone with new tight-sealing windows (or a loud TV) wouldn't have heard the siren. Now I know that's the case in my house, so I'll always leave a window open near where I am in stormy weather, but others may not be as pro-active as I am. I think the siren system should also trigger the Village notification system - I have signed up my home, cell, husband's cell, and all 3 email accounts for us. Yes, it means that every time the Village updates with storm debris pick-up information, members of my household are notified a total of 6 times, but I'd rather by over-informed than under. It would be especially useful for people like my cousin, who was driving home in the storm, was not listening to the radio, and had no idea there was a tornado warning. Had his phone been called or texted, he would have known to pull over and seek shelter.
Lee Hahn July 07, 2011 at 08:21 AM
On duty Village staff has available to them weather radar and the National Weather warning system along with the ability to communicate with other Towns who may be invloved in severe weather befor it gets to Downers Grove. This does not include on duty Village staff who are out on the street who should be reporting severe weather. I do not think this has anything to do with policy. Policy does not and should not outway public safety. I think this was a simple case of being asleep at the wheel.
Scott C. July 07, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Kudos to the Village for a prompt and appropriate response and change in policy. This was the right thing to do. Sean's concern is fair, but the risk of becoming "trigger happy" is small (severe weather events don't happen that often), are completely under Village control and can be mitigated if/as necessary. I lived for 5 years in the mid-South and my wife is from Oklahoma. Sirens sound quite frequently in those places, sometimes when it appears no threat is imminent to the naked eye. But people respect them and recognize the benefit of having some warning than having no warning. Its well documented that minutes and seconds matter in severe weather situations. Warnings provide those extra minutes/seconds to seek shelter. They save lives. True, some people disregard sirens. Heck, some people walk outside when they hear them. But its better to have the option to ignore them and suffer the self imposed consequences than to not have the opportunity to heed a warning at all when severe weather is fast approaching. Nice job, Downers Grove. And continued thanks for the amazing post-storm response.
Elaine Johnson July 07, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Free pick up of storm debris will continue through tomorrow, Bill. There's a map on the village website of areas that have been completed. See today's Morning Briefing for the link.
William Vollrath July 07, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Thanks Elaine, I reported the low hanging, broken parkway tree limb yesterday after realizing it wasn't being removed otherwise. As of mid-day Thur. we're still waiting....
William Vollrath July 07, 2011 at 07:46 PM
The Village has generally done a good and timely cleanup, but I suggest people who have uncut/uncollected parkway tree storm damage in areas the Village claims are "completed" may want to start posting photos on Patch or Facebook...
Chad D. Walz July 07, 2011 at 07:58 PM
Bravo village council!
William Vollrath July 12, 2011 at 03:41 PM
Thank you VODG for arranging to get the tornado damaged parkway tree limbs cut down this morning.
Nancy Steiner July 12, 2011 at 08:56 PM
It is a good policy however did anyone notice that the sirens went off Monday morning of the July 11th storm AFTER it had passed through and tree limbs and flying garbage cans were in the yard and streets? Would have been nice to have that warning before the winds took down my neighbors tree, by the time they were activated it was a little late to head to safety.

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