No warning siren of Thursday's Tornado - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Fanna Haile-Selassie

No warning siren of Thursday's Tornado


Rochester, MN (KTTC-DT) --

Thursday night's storm damaged 127 homes in Rochester, and we're learning now that homeowners never got siren warnings. Due to a computer glitch, nearly all the sirens in the northwest section of the city did not sound off. That's the neighborhood most affected by the storm.

It's one of the worst things that could happen during a storm like the one on Thursday. The sirens are meant to warn people to take cover. These homeowners didn't hear that call.

All weekend long, Rochester residents have been trying to put together what's left after an EF1 tornado ripped through the city. As neighbors help each other out, the talk of the town is where were the warning sirens.

"They didn't go off at all. I didn't hear anything or we would have maybe been prepared. But you weren't, all of a sudden it happened."

Jean Buckingham hasn't lived in her home for even a year. it's now unihabitable. Whether or not the sirens sounded, the tornado was still going to come, but some homeowners say they wished they had the heads up so they could prepare for damage like this."

"Probably would have went in the bathroom and sat there and prayed to be alright," explains Buckingham.

Olmsted county emergency officials say a computer glitch cause the problem. It stemmed from some new software that was put in 3 weeks ago, but kept crashing. So last week, officials put the old software back in, that's where the glitch occurred. But Emergency Operations Center Director Mike Bromberg says there were plenty of other warnings sent through the Emergency Alert System.

"People have to rely on themselves a little bit during times of stormy weather. We knew it was coming, yeah the sirens are there it was a great warning for those that aren't paying attention, but you still have to take some personal responsibility and be ready."

Bromberg says the EOC never even picked up a tornado on the radar. They turned on the sirens and sent the alert after a spotter recorded 70 mph winds near Rock Dell. He says cable can go out and the wind can redirect a siren call, that's why people need to get a transistor radio or a device that can pick up the alerts.

"You know we've all become dependent on digital-aged equipment and even ourselves here. That's what caused our problem. The nice thing about EAS, it's old-school technology that's worked for thousands of years," exclaims Bromberg.

The siren problem was fixed by Friday morning.

Rochester residents were not the only ones affected by a non-working siren. So were the people living in Oronoco Estates.

Up in the window of management's office is a sign telling residents the siren is not reliable. And it did not go off Thursday night. It hasn't been working properly since Olmsted County switched to a digital signal from their old analog one almost two years ago.

Their siren is a privately-owned one that used to get analog warnings from the county. With Thursday's severe storm residents are wondering if the siren will ever get fixed.

"It could have been a major catastrophe. It could have been how many dead people out here. The storm siren don't go off, they don't make it to the storm shelter, then what happens. We're living in tin cans out here, they twist like pretzels," says resident Keith Schlesser.

Bromberg says a new siren equipped with digital technology could cost around $21,000. He suggests any mobile home park in the county too far from the nearest siren should bring up the issue to their township board.

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