VIDEO: The EF-4 tornado that struck Ashton, Rochelle and Fairdale as it forms near Ashton, Illinois.
The EF-4 tornado last week on April 9, 2015 caused destruction for 29 miles with a path that was up to 1/2-mile wide. The tornado passed through a sparsely populated rural area of Illinois. The tornado killed two people and injured 22. What if the path occurred about 70 miles east in our much more densely populated communities? What if the tornado occurred starting about 6:30 p.m. in Streamwood, Illinois and traveled to the northeast through the northwest and north suburbs of Chicago?
APRIL 9, 2015 29-MILE+ TORNADO PATH …
Preliminary path map of Thurs. evening's tornado event. EF-4 had winds up to 180-200 mph & width up to 1/2 mile. pic.twitter.com/5rz24Qb3Ax
— NWS Chicago (@NWSChicago) April 11, 2015
Police are often among the first to spot tornadoes forming because they are widely mobile on the roads of their communities. Consider the following scenario.
On a mild and humid day the National Weather Service issues a Tornado Watch for several counties in northeast Illinois, including Cook County, DuPage County, McHenry County and Lake County. Police are alerted on their radios about the Tornado Watch and are alerted to be aware of weather conditions. About 6:30 p.m. a Hoffman Estates police officer in the middle of a traffic stop northbound on Bartlett Road near Bode Road catches a glimpse of something in the sky over his left shoulder — something that looks like a funnel. He releases the motorist and makes a U-turn to drive down to Barrington Road and Schaumburg Road. The location is out of his jurisdiction in Streamwood, but he knows there is more open space to confirm he saw what he thought he saw in the tree line. He confirms that a tornado is forming and dropping out of the sky. He takes a few seconds to see if he can determine the direction of the path. He estimates it is taking an east-northeast path and reports it on the police radio to Northwest Central Dispatch System. The police radio is encrypted, so no media agencies are able to listen to the police communications. WBBM NewsRadio 78, ABC7 Chicago, WGN News, NBC 5 and Fox News Chicago hear nothing — no details about the path of the tornado or where it is headed. Then valuable life-saving seconds are wasted. Northwest Central Dispatch takes about a minute to activate the Tornado Sirens for the area. It takes another minute to call the National Weather Service, and the National Weather Service takes another minute to relay the message to the local media.
Three minutes have passed since the police officer first reported seeing the tornado, which has now touched down at Streamwood Oaks Golf Club and traveled to Barrington Road and Bode Road — destroying homes in Streamwood along the way.
Growing in size, the path of destruction widens. Not yet 1/2-mile wide, but wide enough and strong enough to level Hoffman Estates High School and toss cars in the parking lot about 8 minutes after the Hoffman Estates police officer reports the tornado. Students and staff at Hoffman Estates High School have less than 7 minutes to take cover from the initial alert.
At 10 minutes the tornado is now 1/2-mile wide and crosses Interstate 90. Many motorists are killed in their cars, and many others are seriously injured — some trapped in their wrecked cars. Seconds later it destroys the Motorola Solutions campus on the left and the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention center on the right.
At 12 minutes the tornado crosses Route 53 between Algonquin Road and Kirchoff Road. Hundreds of cars that were stuck in a backup are tossed and overturned. Again, many motorists are killed in their cars, and many others are seriously injured — some trapped in their wrecked cars. The traffic and tornado alert that could have been provided by WBBM NewsRadio 78 doesn’t have the full details from updated reports from multiple squad cars about the path of the tornado because police radios for Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, and Arlington Heights are also secret, encrypted radios. Traffic copters have long since landed because of the severe weather.
At 18 minutes the tornado is still 1/2-mile wide and has been an EF-4 tornado for several minutes, causing destruction with 200 mph winds as it crosses Northwest Highway near Euclid Avenue. Metra has fortunately stopped most eastbound trains near Barrington, and stopped most westbound trains near Des Plaines. One Metra train stopped just west of downtown Arlington Heights is toppled by the tornado, which seconds later destroys Christian Liberty Academy as it crosses Euclid Avenue. The tornado path is only about 12 miles long since it first touched down in Streamwood, Illinois.
At 21 minutes the tornado starts to weaken, but is still a highly destructive tornado. The path is now 14 miles. Along the way, thousands of homes have been destroyed.
At 24 minutes the tornado is directly over Chicago Executive Airport. Still moving at 40 mph with winds now less than 160 mph, the tornado overturns hundreds of aircraft, and rips the roofs off of hangars.
At 30 minutes the tornado has cleared a destructive path 20 miles long, and crosses the Edens Spur. Seconds later the tornado rips the roof off of Northbrook Court.
At 34 minutes the tornado is now an EF2 tornado with winds of about 120 mph. The tornado destroys Ravinia before moving out to Lake Michigan. The destructive path is about 24 miles. Destroying at least 200 homes almost every mile (probably a low estimate), the tornado has destroyed or seriously damaged at least 5,000 homes.
Emergency Response activated, but secret police radios will cause even more harm in the AFTERMATH of the major disaster — more harm than the initial delay for the tornado alert.
In the aftermath, mutual aid fire departments respond to the northwest and north suburbs from multiple counties in Illinois, but fire departments and public works departments are initially overwhelmed. Landscaping companies, tree companies, and construction companies with excavation equipment immediately volunteer to help to clear streets and rescue people from their homes. Some of the early rescues involve fire departments, but many do not. The news media relay police reports from towns that don’t use secret encrypted police radios, which makes it easier for volunteers to apply their help. Real-time police squad car reports from Streamwood, Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, and Prospect Heights are silent to the public. Volunteer actions in these suburbs are delayed or hampered because of ineffective reporting. The media has to rely on monitoring fire radios, which are not encrypted, but there are not nearly as many fire rigs reporting damage and emergencies as there are police squads on the streets. Also, fire rigs are not reporting as many of the lesser emergencies, such as roads blocked by trees.
911 “All Circuits Are Busy” During Aftermath of Storm Damage in Arlington Heights after a severe thunderstorm on September 5, 2014.
The local 9-1-1 call center is overwhelmed, too. Many callers get an “all circuits are busy” message. Some houses in the path of the tornado burn out of control. Others are at risk, as demonstrated by the loud hiss of gas flowing out of natural gas lines. Electric hazards with downed power lines exist all along the 24-mile path. While phones are busy, many people will find ways to communicate on Twitter and Facebook on their phones. Residents in suburbs with open police communications will find it easier to know where the worst damage is located, and other important details needed to begin the recovery process. It will be easier to check on relatives, friends, and neighbors and avoid hazards with the knowledge of the police assessment in real time. Residents in communities with secret police communications will be in the dark without the full details.
In summary, communities in a major disaster with secret police radios will incur more preventable deaths, will incur more injuries that are allowed to worsen by delayed responses, and will experience injuries that require longer rehabilitation time and will experience more residents with greater disabilities because of delays.
How some police might defend their secret communications …
1) Some police might say the initial police alert to the National Weather Service is sufficient. They’re wrong … seconds count.
2) Some police might say they will turn off the encryption in a major disaster, which will allow media and citizens to respond. They’re wrong … many media and citizen watch groups will not have their radios configured to listen to the previously encrypted radios.
3) Some police might say they don’t want citizens responding to emergencies because of the risk. They’re wrong … emergency services will be seriously overloaded in a major disaster. Yes, there will be risks, but many risks will be worth taking — instead of waiting hours or days for a response.
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