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Tornado alert not up to speed

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Spring is tornado season, and forecasters say the Ohio Valley may be in the path of more severe weather than usual. In Yellow Springs, villagers would do well to consider their safety plans before the tornado warning sirens sound, according to Miami Township Fire Chief Colin Altman.

A tornado watch means that conditions are right for a tornado, and a tornado warning means that one has been spotted in the area, a signal to take immediate cover, Altman said.

If conditions look right for a tornado, those inside a building would be wise to consult a TV, radio or computer to see if a warning has been issued, or just go to a basement or other safe area. Some villagers are under the mistaken impression that they’ll hear a siren if a warning has been issued, but the Village sirens are intended for those outside and may not be heard by villagers inside a building, according to Village Manager Mark Cundiff in a recent interview.

It’s an especially bad idea for villagers inside buildings to depend on Yellow Springs sirens to alert them since two of the Village’s three sirens will not be doing their job this spring, at least during April. While all three sirens are operational, this month only the siren in Bill Duncan Park on the west side of the village will sound a warning, according to Cundiff. The other two sirens — the ones in Kieth’s Alley and on Allen Street — are malfunctioning when the Village police dispatcher tries to connect to them to activate the sirens, so in effect they aren’t working. The problem was discovered last fall during a tornado warning when those in the south end of town alerted police that the Allen Street siren did not go off. At that point, the Village checked all three sirens, found the problem and issued a purchase order to fix it. However, the purchase order somehow did not get filled and the problem remains, a situation that just became clear in recent weeks, according to Cundiff, who said he’s trying to find out why the repairs were not made.

The Kieth’s Alley and Allen Street sirens appear to both need a new circuit board, a repair that takes about three weeks, according to Cundiff, who said the sirens should work after that time.

For the first time this spring, the Village plans to activate its Code Red phone alert system when a tornado warning is announced. Villagers who have a landline phone or who have given the Village their cell phone number will be notified via a call from the police dispatcher with a message that has been pre-loaded. To register a cell phone, contact Ruthe Ann at 767-3402 or go online to and click on Police Department. However, the Code Red system could take up to 10 or 15 minutes to reach all villagers, an amount of time that could be less effective, given that tornados are fast-moving.

If a tornado warning is issued for Yellow Springs, the Village will also send out two police officers, one for the downtown area and the other for south of Allen Street, who will announce the warning from their car’s loudspeakers.

If someone is outside when they hear a warning, they should go inside immediately, according to Fire Chief Altman.

However, it’s best to stay out of large open areas, such as gyms, that have wide free span roofs that can collapse easily. In Yellow Springs the downstairs restrooms of the John Bryan Community Center have been designated as an official tornado shelter, but villagers should only go there if they’re already nearby, as tornados move quickly, Altman said. The door next to the police department in the parking lot is always open, even if other doors are locked.

Those in their homes or business should go to their basement, if they have one, and those without a basement should go to an interior space away from windows and interior walls, Altman said.

“If you don’t know what’s safest, call the fire department and we’ll come take a look,” Altman said. Of course, that call should be made well before an actual tornado looks imminent.

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