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Ten Years
Islanders become lax at twister readiness

By Michael Ho
Independent Staff Writer

Grand Island's civil defense director is issuing a warning: Islanders' tornado attitudes are becoming more lax and putting them at risk of being hurt by severe storms.

For two or three years after the 1980 tornadoes that destroyed much of Grand Island, tornado warnings were serious business for Third City natives, said Howard Maxon, director of the Grand Island/Hall County Civil Defense Department.

''You wouldn't see anybody even out,'' he said. ''South Locust was empty.''

Now, he said, it isn't uncommon to see people driving their cars during a warning. But that's not the worst of it.

''They're grabbing their video cameras now,'' he said, in search of the perfect tornado footage despite the risk of being injured or killed by high winds and flying debris.

Most people still understand the warnings and take precautions, he said, but many relative newcomers, who may not have been in the area when the first storms hit, don't remember the devastation and perhaps pay less attention to the civil defense sirens than they should.

Others may be confused by the sirens. A survey after the tornado showed that some people were unsure of the exact meaning of the civil defense sirens.

Several thought that a second sounding of the siren was an all-clear signal, which it isn't.

One respondent suggested that the signal should be different if the storm is close as opposed to merely being in the same county.

The survey was conducted as part of the hazard mitigation survey put out by the Nebraska Civil Defense Agency. The report's recommendations called for a ''vigorous and continuing public information campaign'' to dispel myths about severe storm warnings.

Maxon said the campaign, started in 1980, has been going ever since.

The report also called for the creation of a network of public tornado shelters. Several of the respondents echoed this suggestion.

Maxon said that although the project was started, public confusion and misunderstandings led to it being scrapped.