PHOTO COURTESY OF BCHM Belvidere Republican
The Belvidere tornado of 1967 left students and residents battered and bewildered. (Original photo taken by Belvidere Daily Republican reporter.)

April 21 marks the anniversary of the Belvidere Tornado in 1967 that touched so many lives then and continues to impact the community even today.

The Boone County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) is overseen by the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, and is directed by EMA Coordinator, Dan Zaccard.

It is the responsibility of EMA to protect the lives and property of the citizens of Boone County before a disaster strikes through planning, training, and mitigation and to reduce human suffering after a disaster strikes through prompt and effective coordination of the local response and recovery efforts utilizing partnerships with local, state, and federal agencies and voluntary organizations.

These voluntary agencies include the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Amateur Radio Club, and other Emergency Management Volunteers.

Real-time reports are critical in issuing warnings and saving lives. That’s an indisputable fact. Spotters provide real-time ground-truth of local conditions – such as hail size, wind speed, tornado development, and local damage – to help warn the public. Even as new technology allows the National Weather Service to issue warnings with greater lead-time, spotters will always serve as a critical link between radar indications of severe weather and what’s happening on the ground.

What does it mean when I hear the outdoor warning sirens?

In short, it means that something life threatening is happening and you should go indoors and get more information.

What should I do when I hear the outdoor warning sirens?

When the sirens are heard, go inside and tune to local media to get more information.

Why can’t I hear the outdoor warning sirens in my house?

Sirens are an outdoor warning system designed only to alert those who are outside that something dangerous is approaching.

When are outdoor warning sirens tested?

Sirens are tested according to local community or state policies. In the Boone County area, this is at 10 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month to ensure that each siren is working properly. Malfunctioning sirens need to have maintenance performed on them to make sure the residents of that area are alerted. VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) monitor each siren during these tests to make sure each one works as expected.

Why don’t the outdoor warning sirens sound an all-clear signal?

People should be indoors and monitoring local media for updates on the storm.

Will the outdoor warning sirens warn me of every dangerous storm?

The safest approach is to be proactive and use all of the information available to protect yourself and your family from threatening weather. Nothing can replace common sense. If a storm is approaching, the lightning alone is a threat. Sirens are only one part of a warning system that includes preparation, NOAA Weather Radio, and local media.

Who activates the outdoor warning sirens?

In Boone County, sirens are activated by the 9-1-1 Emergency Dispatch Center. The Dispatchers sound the alarm when they are notified by the weather service or by the local Boone County EMA weather spotters.

Weather Spotters

Virtually every community has some form of spotter network. Often, local fire and police personnel are trained to observe and report severe weather, partly due to their extensive radio communication and 24-hour operations. Boone County EMA has a trained weather-spotter segment that keeps tabs on storms with tornado potential. Some spotters are amateur radio operators as well. All share a sense of responsibility to their neighbors.

“The severe weather sirens are an outdoor warning system only,” said Robert Giesecke, head of the weather-spotting segment of Boone County EMA (Emergency Management Agency). “It is not intended for inside the home. I strongly recommend that everyone have a weather radio in their home. They are available from Amazon and Channel 23 occasionally runs an offer on them.

“The weather radios get weather alerts and can pick up Silver Alerts and Amber Alerts for missing senior citizens and children in local counties. The weather radio can be programmed to receive only the alerts from local counties. I suggest purchasing a radio that is both AC powered and can run on batteries as well in case of a power loss. Then change the batteries twice a year; preferably at the same time you change the batteries in your smoke alarms.

“Both at home and at work, does everyone know where to go for shelter in case of a weather emergency or a natural disaster? If you do not plan in advance, are you going to be at risk? Are your family/coworkers going to be at risk?

“Is there a disaster plan at work? Count noses and have a meeting place where you can count noses. You don’t want to leave anyone behind.

“Do you have a disaster plan at home? Again, choose a meeting spot where you can count noses and make sure everyone in the family is safe and you don’t leave anyone behind.

“Once you have made sure everyone is together and safe, do you have disaster preparations ready? I-EMA asks everyone to have enough supplies (water, food, medications, and remember your cat/dog) for 72 hours. If the storm was really bad, you may prefer to be prepared for at least a week before anyone can reach you. “During a natural disaster, your cell phone will probably not work because the system will be overloaded so your weather radio, or All-Hazards Alert Radio, may be the only way you can get news from outside your safe place. It is an inexpensive investment at about $25 and can be easily found on

“When watching or listening to the weather, you may here of a severe thunderstorm or tornado ‘watch’ or ‘warning.’ A storm/tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for a severe thunderstorm or tornado. The storm/tornado ‘warning’ means that there is a good indication on radar that the storm is severe or that you can actually see it twisting in the atmosphere.

“This is where the tornado spotters come into play – they can actually see when the tornado touches down. Spotters are never sent out at night because they can’t see the tornado in the dark. They are only deployed in the daylight hours. Boone County is prepared to give you as much notice as possible in case of a severe weather event. How you respond is your responsibility – have a plan and know where to go.”

Learn more on the Facebook page of Boone County EMA – IL.

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