Seeking shelter: Citizens encouraged to find own safety in severe weather
Sirens blared in Dickinson on Wednesday evening to warn residents of possible danger as a severe thunderstorm rolled through the area.
Yet many people said on social media didn't know where to go if a tornado was spotted.
The National Weather Service reported that there was cloud rotation on the radar, funnel clouds and favorable conditions for a tornado around 10 miles north of Dickinson, though none touched down. The storm did, however, produce baseball-sized hail near Richardton.
Bill Fahlsing, Stark County director of emergency services, said there are no official tornado shelters in Stark County. He encourages people to make up their own plan for finding shelter with family or friends.
"A lot of the times, we will recommend for those individuals that don't have a basement in their house, or live in mobile homes or RVs, to develop a plan," he said. "Work with friends or family so that if there is severe weather, they can go to a structure that is suitable."
Fahlsing said it is difficult to identify a possible pre-storm shelter in the community because it must have 24/7 access and be able to hold everyone who is seeking shelter.
"We never know how many people would be impacted so if we have, let's say 500 people in the community that need to seek shelter and our designated tornado shelter or severe thunderstorm shelter has the capacity of 300 people, we don't want to send people back out into the storm," he said.
Fahlsing said his department's biggest problem is people trying to figure out why the siren is going off and calling 911 to ask about sirens.
"One of the problems that we face is, and it seems like no matter what we do to communicate this, when sirens start sounding, we have people that run outside to see what's going on," he said. "If you hear the sirens, seek shelter immediately."
The Stark County outdoor warning sirens are activated for five scenarios.
- The NWS has issued a tornado warning for any community in Stark County.
- A funnel cloud or tornado is reported with 15 miles of any city in the county.
- Wind speeds of 70 mph or greater will be approaching any city in the county.
- A hazardous materials or life-threatening on-scene incident commander has requested activation of the sirens to alert the public.
- Testing and maintenance at 11 a.m. every Wednesday.
Stark County has 17 sirens to alert citizens of impending weather—12 of those are in Dickinson.
Once in a safe structure, Fahlsing recommends getting to the lowest level of the building and getting to the innermost part of the building.
"First and foremost, we always recommend please be cautious of severe weather possibly moving into the area and keep an eye on that," Fahlsing said. "If you are out and about, we recommend finding a safe structure to go to."
The West River Community Center is one of the structures in town that has a safe interior location.
Matt Mack, the facility operations manager for the WRCC, said workers ask people to stop their workouts and seek shelter in the locker rooms at the facility.
"What we do is we have people either go into the locker rooms," he said. "We can't hold anybody at the community center, but we try to make sure everybody is safe. Anybody can come into the rec center to seek shelter if they wanted to."
While the WRCC could hold a few hundred people in the locker rooms, it is not a recommended tornado shelter.
Fahlsing advises residents to keep their TV and radio tuned in for up-to-date information and to have an all-hazards radio that can be tuned into a specific county for weather information even if the power is out.
While in a safe location, Fahlsing said people should have a disaster supply kit with enough food, water and batteries to last up to 72 hours. Those kits should include non-perishable food, one gallon of drinking water per day per person, prescription medication and other supplies deemed necessary.
Fahlsing encouraged people to visit www.ready.gov for information on being prepared before, during and after disasters. He also suggests signing up for a cellphone alert system that can be accessed at www.starkcountynd.gov/weather.