When three tornadoes hit Sioux Falls late Tuesday night not all of the sirens went off. People were upset by this because, in the opinion of some people I have interacted with, that is their only cue to seek shelter when a tornado comes. That is an incredibly short sighted and dangerous plan.

I said as much during the show this morning, when I admittedly got preachy on my soapbox. I said that while the sirens should work, they should not be your only means of warning to head to the basement in a tornado, that they are for warning people outside, that you should do everything you can to be informed, do not ignore that information, and take responsibility for your safety.

Shortly after this rant I received an email from a woman whose story from that night illustrates perfectly why you shouldn't wait or rely entirely on the sirens. She wished to remain anonymous but said I could use the text of her email.

She wrote:

We heard and read the phone warning, we were watching the news while they told us to get into the basement. Yet, we laid there hesitant to leave our beds thinking, it’s not going to hit us, the sirens aren’t going.

I finally decided to get up and pack a bag with shoes and sweatshirts and water for everyone. As I was getting my last pieces my husband went upstairs to get the kids. During that time a tornado hit our house. While my family was upstairs.

Luckily, our structure is OK, we suffered a lot of damage but we have a roof, we have walls. Our neighbors were not as lucky. We are surrounded by homes that are missing walls, missing roofs and missing all together.

My family was still upstairs because of our lack of good judgment at the time. It is our fault we didn’t do what we were supposed to do and were warned to do. It is our fault my family could have been gone. There is no time to wait. When the tornado hit us and even just before, there is no way we would have heard sirens. We did hear them about 5-10 minutes after the tornado. Watching our camera footage back during the storm, the damage happened so quickly it’s hard to even see. It looks like a glitch in the video but it’s not. A split second and everything was down or flown away like a video trick.

Sirens are a warning system for people that are outside. Even if I was outside during the time, I would have already sought shelter because of the storm. The sirens need to work, however, people need to take responsibility for yourself.

When the first cell phone emergency notification went off for a tornado warning in our area I immediately went to the National Weather Service page for the Sioux Falls area (weather.gov/fsd) to check the warnings. The graphic of the warned area did not yet include Sioux Falls but it was close. I kept tabs on it. When the second warning was issued a few minutes later I told my wife to we need to get the kids into the basement.

To be honest, after reading this woman's email, I think I would have been too late had the tornado actually touched down in my neighborhood. The sirens sounded shortly after we got to the basement. That means the tornado hit her house about the time I decided we should finally move to the basement. In other words, I screwed up too!

What this storm taught me about planning for my family's safety is that I will take the warnings and act accordingly. The cool graphics shown on television by the certainly well-intentioned meteorologists do not provide a live picture of precisely what is happening. It is a well informed, computer generated guess to help them warn us. And just because my house wasn't in the red zone that the National Weather Service published, doesn't mean that a tornado can't zip down suddenly from a violent storm. If there is a warning issued I'm taking preliminary action to make sure my family is safe.

"But my phone battery was dead and the power was out or I don't have a smart phone and I don't have cable or an antenna for my TV so I need the siren."

Then you need a backup phone charger for emergencies, an antenna for your TV, and a radio and/or weather radio that runs off batteries.


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