Rude awakening: Error leads to tornado sirens being sounded

News-DemocratNovember 22, 2013 

A mistake on the part of an operator is being blamed for an early morning wake-up call for St. Clair County residents.

At 5 a.m. Friday tornado sirens went off for several minutes across the metro-east, waking residents in Belleville, Fairview Heights, Mascoutah, Millstadt, O'Fallon and Swansea despite the fact that there was no sign of threatening weather in the sky or on weather radar.

"It was a human error," St. Clair Emergency Management Department Director Herb Simmons said. "We have an alarm every morning to tell us signals are being tested. They have to press a button to turn that off and the telecommunictor hit the wrong button."

Instead of resetting the system, the warning sirens were activated.

Simmons said the operator was extremely apologetic.

"She felt terrible about it," Simmons said. "But we're people, not machines. Mistakes are going to happen every once in a while. My staff works terribly hard and they do a very good job."

Simmons said he believes this is the only time in more than a decade of service that the tornado warning sirens, have accidentally be triggered.

The startling sirens, which can't be shut off once they're sounded, caused residents to call their local police departments looking for answers. The Emergency Management office also fielded questions from residents.

"We got a call from a lady in Belleville," Simmons said. "She said she grabbed her stuff and ran down four flights of steps (for cover.) I explained to her what happened and she said it was better to be safe than to be sorry."

Simmons said the sirens are working normal and that they're ready to go the next time dangerous weather threatens.

Contact reporter Scott Wuerz at swuerz@bnd.com or call 239-2626.

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