A violent storm front that swept through western Iowa last week underscores the importance of public education on what to do and what not to do during a potentially lethal storm, according to Aimee Barritt, emergency services coordinator for Cherokee County.
The tornado that killed four Boy Scouts at a camp in Monona County spawned several tornadoes across a wide swath of west central and northwest Iowa on June 11. Cherokee was one of the towns under a tornado warning for a short time. The sirens sounded but fortunately no funnel set down in Cherokee.
Barritt advises people to keep tuned to regional TV or radio broadcasts during potentially violent weather.
A tornado watch is issued when conditions are right for the formation of tornadoes. This calls for paying attention to what is happening.
A tornado warning means that a tornado is present or seems likely. This means people need to take shelter. "Do not go out sightseeing, do not delay, seek shelter immediately," Barritt said.
The shelter should be a basement. If this is not possible, people should go to an interior area away from windows.
Ideally, survival items should be stored in this area, including a first aid kit, a flashlight, bottled water and a radio or TV for receiving regional broadcasts.
Barritt noted that there is not any siren signal for all clear. If a siren continues to sound, people should remain in the sheltered area. The siren will automatically stop for a moment after three minutes. If the siren starts again this means that there is still danger. This underscores the need for access to some form of emergency broadcasts when taking shelter.
Barritt noted that during the tornado warning some people made inappropriate 911 calls, making comments on the loudness of the sirens or asking general information questions.
"The line must be kept open for true emergencies," Barritt said. She explained that dispatchers at the LEC are busy during emergency situations and 911 calls are given priority. If a non-emergency call needs to be made, it should be made to the general phone number at the law enforcement center.
"The call might not be answered right away when they are busy with an emergency situation," Barritt said.
In fact, it is advisable that if a question or comment can wait until after law enforcement center personnel are done dealing with an emergency or potential emergency, then the person should wait to make the call, even to a non-emergency number.