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"StormReady" Label Proves Correct for Ohio County
in Recent Tornado Outbreak

To earn an NWS StormReady designation, Van Wert County, OH, placed a series of warning alert systems in public locations, including the movie theater destroyed in a storm outbreak that killed 35 people.

Quick action by Van Wert Cinemas manager Scott Shaffer and his staff got more than 50 adults and children out of theaters in the multiplex and into safer conditions in a hallway and restrooms. Minutes later a tornado tore off the building's roof and tossed cars into the screen and front seats where minutes earlier kids and parents had been watching "The Santa Clause 2."

"This story illustrates a great success for the NWS, NOAA Weather Radio and StormReady programs," said NWS Headquarters Warning Coordination Meteorologist Program Manager Stephan Kuhl. "It also illustrates the importance of establishing a close working relationship between our local NWS offices, our emergency management partners, and ultimately the communities that we serve!"

The theater office was equipped with a Federal Signal Corporation local warning alert system called the "Informer." The "Informer" is activated via a digitally-encoded pager signal that automatically turns the unit on and sounds an alert. The theaters unit was tied directly into the Van Wert County siren system and activated immediately once the Van Wert County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) sounded the warning sirens. The unit then remains open for "live" broadcasts by the emergency manager until the reset button is hit.

The Van Wert County EOC received the NWS Tornado Warning via a NOAA Weather Radio receiver tuned to the Fort Wayne, Indiana NWR transmitter frequency. Van Wert County Emergency Manager, Rick McCoy, received the warning and immediately activated the city of Van Wert siren warning system. McCoy also broadcast the NWS Tornado Warning and action statement live over the "Informer."

Seventy of the alert units and a number of NOAA Weather Radio receivers were purchased with grant money by Van Wert County Emergency Management as one of the requirements to become StormReady. Van Wert County was designated StormReady by WFO Northern Indiana on January 10, 2002.

"If we hadn't gone through the StormReady process gotten our warning system in place before this storm, a lot of people would not have gotten the warning, and we could have lost many more lives," McCoy said. "All communities across the country need to look at becoming StormReady, because at some point they're going to have severe weather of some kind. People shouldn't say 'it can't happen here,' because it can."

The tornado touched down in Van Wert County with 13 minutes lead time. The tornado struck the movie theater 28 minutes after the warning was issued.

A special award ceremony was held to recognized the outstanding service of those involved in the tornado warning.

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Last Updated: November 18, 2009

 


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