City staff failed residents by not sounding sirens earlier during the Oct. 21 tornadoes, City Administrator Phillip Patterson said Wednesday.
The first tornado to hit Siloam Springs touched down at midnight in Adair County, Okla., and the second tornado was on the ground at 12:08 a.m. in Siloam Springs, according to a statement on the National Weather Service website. In addition, straightline winds of 80 to 85 miles per hour struck the area.
A Message From City Administrator Phillip Patterson
To the residents of Siloam Springs,
It has been confirmed by the National Weather Service in Tulsa that two (2) tornadoes hit near Siloam Springs, and straight-line winds hit 80-85 miles per hour through the City early Monday morning. One tornado hit at 12:05 a.m.* about four (4) miles southwest of Siloam Springs in Adair County, Okla., and a second one hit at 12:08 a.m. two (2) miles southeast of Siloam Springs. We are extremely grateful that no major injuries occurred.
It is now clear that we (city staff) failed the residents of Siloam Springs by not sounding the sirens earlier. We did not have the right people in the right place at the right time to make the correct decision. It is my promise to the residents of Siloam Springs that this will not happen again. We will revise our policies and procedures and will ensure that the appropriate staff have the proper training.
In addition, we have been working to repair the two nonfunctioning sirens. These are older pieces of equipment and obtaining parts has become a challenge. We will fix them as quickly as we can.
Regarding the accusations that the City has deleted comments from our Facebook pages, staff has confirmed that, to date, no comments have been deleted by city staff with respect to our storm operations. Our Facebook policy does currently state that the City reserves the right to delete comments that contain vulgar language or personal attacks, and those that are blatantly offensive, prejudicial towards any ethnic, racial or religious group, promoting the sales of goods or services, promoting non-city sponsored events, clearly off-topic, promoting illegal activities, promoting political organizations, or infringing upon copyrights or trademarks. Comments criticizing the City organization, the City as a whole, or the City’s operation are not and have not been deleted. It should be noted that Facebook does allow individuals to post and delete their own comments. If anyone believes that their comments have been deleted by the City they are welcome and encouraged to contact me and speak personally with me at city hall.
City Administrator Phillip Patterson
*Patterson said on Friday the times were based on the most recent information available at the time the statement was written on Wednesday morning. The National Weather Service statement issued at 9:38 p.m. Wednesday listed the time the first tornado began as 12 a.m.
The National Weather Service in Tulsa issued its first tornado warning for Benton County at 12:02 a.m., according to Meteorologist Mike Teague. This triggered the city's CodeRed Weather Warning System, which delivered phone alerts and calls starting at 12:03 a.m., according to City Administrator Phillip Patterson. However, city sirens were not sounded until 12:13 a.m., he said.
Patterson's statement was posted on the city's website and social media pages on Wednesday morning.
"It is now clear that we (city staff) failed the residents of Siloam Springs by not sounding the sirens earlier," Patterson said. "We did not have the right people in the right place at the right time to make the correct decision. It is my promise to the residents of Siloam Springs that this will not happen again. We will revise our policies and procedures and will ensure that the appropriate staff have the proper training."
In addition, two of the city's eight tornado sirens did not sound, Patterson wrote. The city has been waiting for parts from the manufacturer to repair one of the sirens for some time. The second siren was just found to be in disrepair a few weeks ago and the city is also facing difficulty getting parts for it, he said in an interview.
The tornado sirens are activated using a key in a button in the police station, Patterson said. More people needed to be in the weather operations center and the right people needed to be in the weather operations center to sound the sirens, he said.
Concern about late sounding sirens prompted the public statement, Patterson said.
"While we were doing the best we could at the time, we clearly sounded the sirens late," he said. "What I've tried to tell staff, if we make mistakes, we own our mistakes and we learn from them and we go on. So I think it was important for the residents and the city as a whole to understand we are going to own our mistakes. We didn't sound the alarm soon enough."
Severe weather was predicted in Northwest Arkansas for up to five days before the storm hit and a tornado watch was issued several hours beforehand, Teague said. In total, the storm front developed four tornadoes, according the National Weather Service statement. The first in Coweta, Okla., at 11:08 p.m., Oct. 20, and the second in Scraper, Okla., at 11:39 p.m., it states.
The first tornado to impact Siloam Springs touched down in Adair County, Okla., at 12 a.m., Oct. 21 and stayed on the ground for 9.5 miles, ending 2.5 miles southeast of Siloam Springs at 12:09 p.m, according to the statement. The EF1 tornado reached maximum wind speeds of 90 to 100 miles per hour and uprooted trees, damaged homes, destroyed outbuildings and snapped power poles, it states.
While the first tornado was dissipating on the south side of town, a second tornado formed on the north side of town at 12:08 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. It moved along U.S. Highway 412 to the southern potions of the Siloam Springs Regional Airport and the Stonecrest Subdivision. At it's maximum strength, the EF2 tornado had wind speeds of 111 to 135 miles per hour and grew to 1.5 miles wide. It stayed on the ground for more than 31 miles ending in Rogers, it states.
In Siloam Springs, the second tornado blew a roof off a business and many homes and businesses sustained roof damage, according to the National Weather Service. Several hangars at the airport were damaged, numerous trees were uprooted and power poles were snapped.
Northeast of Siloam Springs, the roof of a wood-framed permanent home was entirely removed, and a large, well-built, wood framed outbuilding was destroyed on Andria Circle, according to the National Weather Service. Nearby hardwood trees were snapped, homes were damaged and roof structures lifted off the frame of a house and set back down, it states.
Patterson said he is working to develop a plan to fix the tornado siren issue. In the next week, he said plans to sit down with staff and do a post incident assessment to determine where the failure happened. Then Patterson said he plans to revise policies and perhaps make additional changes to the siren system if necessary to address the problem.
There is also a larger national conversation about whether our outdoor storm warning systems are the most effective way to warn people, Patterson said, noting that he realizes not everyone has access to a smart phone. Storm sirens are an older way to warn people about severe weather, dating back to the 1950s, and some cities no longer use them, he said.
"I'm not going to say we are going to move away from it, but we need to have a conversation about what is the most effective way to warn people today," he said.
Tornado sirens are designed to be an outdoor warning system, according to Teague. There are many sources people can look to for weather information, including smartphone weather alerts, internet, television, commercial radio and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, he said.
For severe weather that hits during the night, cell phone weather alerts are great, but ring tones do have to be turned on to be heard and not everyone has access to a cell phone, Teague said. NOAA weather radios do have a loud tone designed to wake people and are very customizable, he said.
Teague said tornadoes happen every month of the year and October tornadoes are not unheard of. He encouraged people to keep themselves well informed of developing weather events year round to protect themselves and their families.
General News on 10/27/2019