Many agree: We need more storm warning systems

Kevin Haas

For several rural residents in northern Boone County, Monday’s tornado came without warning.

Now, officials are considering additional outdoor alert systems to areas where residents couldn’t hear the cry of the warning siren.

Jean Lowman of Stimes Road, whose garage was blown down by the strong winds, thinks it’s a good idea. She wasn’t tuning into the TV or radio reports Monday, and the tornado blindsided her.

“Luckily, I already happened to be in the basement,” Lowman said. “And the house wasn’t hit, except for the roof, so we fared pretty well.”

‘Right thing to do’

County officials want to start studying what areas need better warning. They’ve already pinpointed two — North Boone High School and Manchester Elementary.

The School District hopes to work with the County Board to finance the emergency sirens, which can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 apiece.

“I think it’s the right thing to do not just for the schools, but for the neighborhood as well,” said Ed Mulholland, transportation director and varsity girls basketball coach for North Boone. “It not only provides protection to our students, but we also have the ability to be a center for broadcast to some of the more rural neighborhoods in the northern part of the county.”

Costs can be prohibitive

Other municipalities are looking at adding warning systems too, but funding can be the catch. It’s the reason why one Caledonia trustee says her village isn’t equipped with a siren.

It was just too cost-prohibitive for the village of about 200, Mary Walraven said.

The Village of Poplar Grove has one siren and is looking to add another near the airport on Illinois 76.

“That’s kind of halfway between us and Belvidere,” Village President Roger Day said. “It’s kind of a dead zone down there.”

With no grant money available for sirens, Day knows budgeting for the emergency system could be tricky.

Bonus Township is one of the few rural areas covered. But it wasn’t Monday, Highway Commissioner Don Gustafson said. Sirens were installed, but weren’t operational until Wednesday afternoon.

Some areas of the township could hear the siren sounds from Belvidere.

“It depends on what way the wind blows,” said John Bates of Bonus Township.

Bonus Township should be completely covered now, Emergency Management Coordinator Sandra Rogers said.

Four sirens were hooked up Wednesday, and township trustees want to put another up near the township building on Marengo Road. That would total six sirens, including one in Garden Prairie.

Bates doesn’t rely on sirens for warning.

“That’s what TV and radio and weather radios are for,” he said.

But others say that sirens are needed to provide additional alerts.

“You have to hit the public from multiple fronts so you can try to reach everybody,” said Dale Moeller, president and CEO of American Signal Corporation.

On committee’s agenda

Boone County Board Chairwoman Cathy Ward knows things could have been a lot worse this week. She thinks sirens could help warn rural residents and wants the County Board to look into providing more.

The Public Safety Committee will be the first to tackle the issue.

“If that had swung south and gone right through the rural subdivisions, there would have been a tremendous amount of damage, and no one would have heard a siren,”

Ward said.

Staff writer Kevin Haas can be reached at 815-544-3452 or