Records indicate sirens sounded

Maplewood officials say tornado alarms weren’t heard at school buildings

Maplewood Elemetary School Principal Beth Goerig said had there been an alert for the tornado that touched down Tuesday in Trumbull County, the school would have taken precautions. However, the Johnston Township tornado siren never sounded, she said.

“Had there been an actual alarm, we would’ve done what we were trained to do,” said Goerig, reacting to questions about why the school did not enact the usual tornado protocol as a tornado touched down in nearby Bazetta. She said, however, no one heard sirens or received phone alerts.

Maplewood School Superintendent Perry Nicholas said at Wednesday’s board of education meeting the district did not enact their tornado training because they weren’t informed of a tornado and no sirens were heard in either Johnston or Mecca, where both of the district’s school buildings are located.

“We usually get notification by phone and no notification was sent out. The phones usually are ringing off the hook with weather warnings,” Nicholas said.

In the moments following the tornado’s 10:25 a.m. touchdown in the Bazetta area, Trumbull County 911 emergency dispatchers were dispatching crews to the area of Everett Hull Road, indicating that callers were reporting a suspected tornado. Records indicate it was minutes later when tornado sirens began sounding in the area.

At nearby Lakeview School District, school administrators said they first found out about the tornado warning from local police who called to notify them.

“It all happened simultaneously; as I was making the announcement to the students, the siren went off,” said Lakeview High School Principal Lawrence Herrholtz. “We are very lucky to have a school resource officer who notified us quickly after he was dispatched.”

The tornado, according to the National Weather Service in Cleveland, touched down at 10:25 a.m. Tuesday. It measured 75 yards wide and included winds up to 90 to 100 mph. It traveled 4.5 miles from Champion to Cortland.

Phone and TV alerts are issued by the National Weather Service in Cleveland.

Messages left with the weather service Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment for Tribune Chronicle stories were not returned.

Ernie Cook, director of the Trumbull County 911 Dispatch Center, which controls 20 sirens throughout the county, said all sirens sounded Tuesday, including the one located near Maplewood Elementary.

According to Cook, when the sirens are activated, they transmit back to 911 dispatch confirming that they’re working. Dispatch received no error messages from the sirens Tuesday, said Cook.

“It was all green,” he said.

Usually, during tornado season, the National Weather Service issues a warning when conditions are right for a funnel cloud, often several hours beforehand. Trumbull County 911 dispatchers then respond to those alerts appropriately, said Cook.

“In this particular case, this kinda popped out of nowhere,” said Cook.

The dispatch center, located in Howland, received eyewitness calls about cloud rotations starting around 10:27 a.m., he said. Dispatch then notified the NWS. According to Cook, sirens were sounded by 10:30 a.m.

Per protocol, all dispatch-controlled sirens in the county were set off simultaneously. Warren, Girard and Lordstown operate their own sirens, said Cook, and they were notified.

Cortland police Chief David Morris said he heard a call about a tornado heading toward the school building and quickly followed up by contacting his school resource officer when that officer didn’t respond to the dispatcher.

“He’s usually really quick,” Morris said.

So the chief used his personal cell to contact officer Brandon Rice, who said he had not heard the call. Rice, who was serving as the school resource officer at Lakeview High School on this day, in turn alerted high school officials and the safety protocol started.

Meanwhile, Officer Jason Smith, who was in his cruiser on his way to the Lakeview PK-8 building, heard the radio traffic, and he immediately contacted the school.

School personnel issued a lockdown and within seconds of the notice, the siren went off to alert the area.

Morris explained there was some initial confusion because of his department sharing a frequency with Howland, as well as some reference regarding a now-closed school in Cortland.

“It all happened in a matter of minutes,” Morris said.

Lakeview Middle School principal Ashley Handrych did say she also received a weather notice on her phone.

Those at Maplewood schools may not have heard the siren because they were indoors, said Cook.

“Siren systems are only designed for outside. Their standard is not to be able to be heard within every house where they’re located,” he said.

Goerig disputed that, saying if the siren had sounded, they would have known.

“I can hear it clearly from my office. In the fall, even people in interior rooms could hear the siren. We’re pretty close to it,” she said.

On Wednesday, Goerig said she called the Johnston Township Fire Department, located a half-mile from the school, which affirmed they didn’t hear the siren either, she said.

In September, when a tornado touched down in northern Trumbull County, the school went into tornado mode for the duration of the alert, which lasted more than an hour. Goerig said students then were moved to interior ground floor hallways and two windowless interior classrooms.

Aaron Chine, who was fishing at Mosquito Lake State Park and saw the tornado touch down, said he did hear sirens, but only after he saw the funnel cloud.

“They did not start going off until after we’d seen it,” said Chine.

Chine said the tornado touched down on the west side of the lake and then made its way east across the water. Sirens started about 30 seconds after it hit the lake, he said.

According to Cook, the National Weather Service sent a meteorologist to look at the scene in Trumbull County, and the event was confirmed as a tornado. There was no loss of life due to the tornado, according to Bazetta fire Chief Dennis Lewis.

A tornado also touched down in New Lebanon, Pa., in Mercer County, just before 11 a.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh, Tribune Chronicle news partner WKBN 27 reported.

Tribune Chronicle staffers Beth Shiller, Jim Mackey and Bob Coupland contributed to this story.