Reporters reflect on Taylorville tornado

Austen Brown, Reporter

 As the one-year anniversary of the tornado that ravaged Taylorville, Illinois draws near, students had an opportunity to learn about the media coverage, meteorology and emergency response factors involved in the incident.

A discussion about the tornado and the wreckage it left in its wake, titled “Eyes of the Storm: Taylorville Tornado Coverage & Communication, A Year Later,” took place at the Doudna Lecture Hall on Wednesday.

Four panelists took the stage, and each presented their perspective on the disaster at the time it happened.

Journalism professor and former Taylorville resident Joe Astrouski spearheaded the discussion, giving a brief synopsis of the tornado and introducing the other three panelists.

“On December 1 last year,” Astrouski said, “tornadoes tore across the state; one of them did severe and extensive damage to the town of Taylorville, where I happened to live at the time.”

The first panelist to present was Chris Miller, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, who explained the process of scanning for volatile weather and getting that information to the public, as well as his recounting of the events that transpired last year on Dec. 1.

Miller said getting weather alerts to the public is a huge priority for meteorologists.

“We (were) trying to get this information out there to as many bodies as possible to spread the message,” Miller said.

“Whenever we send information out, we’re communicating to the public, to our partners and emergency management (and) to the broadcast media about severe threats,” Miller said. “The main thing we want to get out there is the timing.”

Miller talked about StarCom21 radio, a system meteorologists use to communicate with emergency management officials, among other methods of communication.

Next up was Jesse Guinn, an Eastern alum and meteorologist at WEEK-TV in Peoria, Illinois.

Guinn said he reported on the tornado for four and a half hours the day it ripped through Central Illinois.

He said the tornado was almost unpredictable due to the weather circumstances before it occurred.

“It was so odd because we were looking at a blizzard that we had a week earlier in parts of our viewing area,” Guinn said.

He also discussed Federal Communications Commission requirements for broadcast news.

He said the FCC requires all broadcast news networks to present weather reports both visually and audibly to ensure that everyone, including visually- and hearing-impaired individuals, receive the proper news alerts.

Astrouski then took the stage and gave his take on the story.

He said journalists like himself have two goals when reporting on a catastrophic event like this one.

“The first goal is to collect as much material as you can,” he said.

Astrouski said the second goal is to determine which pieces of information collected need to be conveyed to the public right away.

The fourth and final panelist was Joseph Gasparich, an emergency responder and bureau chief of the Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Gasparich went in detail about the work his team put into tracking the storm and ensuring there were emergency personnel at the scene if things were to go awry.

Austen Brown can be reached at  581-2812 or [email protected]