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NIU certified as StormReady University

May 3, 2011


Gilbert Sebenste

Gilbert Sebenste

Had Dorothy left her Kansas home for the secure, StormReady confines of NIU, she would have had no need to fear the twister that whirled through her quaint rural town before sending her to Oz.

For the ninth consecutive year, NIU has been certified as a StormReady University by the National Weather Service for meeting requirements in preparedness and safety for severe weather.

Seventy-two universities across the country currently meet these standards, with only two in Illinois: NIU and College of DuPage.

NIU staff meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste says the university follows strict protocol for dispatching information to the public.

When the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, Sebenste receives an e-mail notification only three seconds after the forecaster transmits the message. The city sounds the tornado siren wthin 60 seconds of the warning going into effect.

“The information comes in and out very quickly,” Sebenste says. “Right now the goal is to alert everyone within three minutes of notification from the National Weather Service.

“We worked with the city to develop one of the best siren policies I’ve seen anywhere. I credit the DeKalb police and fire departments in making that happen.”

To help relay the message, NIU has more than 300 weather radios spread throughout each campus building, including all satellite campuses. People can be notified through the NIU website, text message and e-mail alerts, NIU weather channel 35 and the NIU Police Department.

Sebenste says the NIU Police Department is one of the only police forces in the country where every sworn officer is trained as a weather spotter. Senior staff members in the NIU residence halls are trained every summer in the event that a tornado hits.

If a severe storm does reach campus, each building has a designated shelter location.

NIU’s standards for weather safety have been met with intrigue from other schools. To help implement similar practices on their campuses, colleges such as the University of Kentucky, the University of Maryland at College Park and College of DuPage have reached out to NIU for advice.

“I’m humbled to know we’re the prototype university in terms of being prepared for severe weather, but I know it’s not foolproof.”

A tornado can be expected to hit DeKalb once every 30 years, Sebenste says, and the campus every 50 years. The last tornado to strike the NIU campus was in 1986, he adds, blowing out windows in Stevenson and causing other minor damage.

by Andrew Hrubec