Hillsboro, WI

Community Visited: 5/19/08
Community Recognized: 6/24/08
Community Ceremony: 9/15/08


On Monday May 19, 2008, a site verification visit was made to Hillsboro, WI, a community applying to become 'StormReady' for NWS La Crosse.

Verification team members included:

  • Steve Braun, Grant County Emergency Management
  • Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS La Crosse

Community Information

Hillsboro, WI is in far eastern Vernon County in southwest Wisconsin. It is located along several creeks that end up flowing into the Baraboo River in neighboring Sauk County in very hilly terrain. Population is 1,272.

The main StormReady contact is Thomas Hotek, Hillsboro Emergency Management. Secondary contacts include Thomas Sebranek, Hillsboro Fire Chief, and Thomas Richardson, Hillsboro Police Chief.  We met all three of them while conducting the site verification visit.  They take hazardous weather very serious and seem quite pro-active with regards to preparedness.


24 Hour Warning Point

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is located at the fire station on the northeast side of town. Since firemen do a majority of the storm spotting for the community (and county), this is where weather monitoring and communication normally take place.

At the fire station/EOC, here are the methods NWS information is monitored:

  • County / Fire Frequencies (Communication with Viroqua)
  • V.E.R.A.S. (Vernon Emergency Radio Alert System)
  • Internet
  • Amateur Radio
  • NOAA Weather Radio
  • Television (located in different room)

Pros: The group seems to do a nice job monitoring weather conditions and is very pro-active. Their computer automatically boots up with numerous different radar displays, including the National Weather Service display and storm-based warning imagery. They also have pre-designated storm spotting locations around the community and many different methods to communicate not only with the county but also the NWS.

Cons: Weather radio reception at the fire station was poor and the radio was set to monitor the site at Coloma, WI initially. The television was in a separate training room.

They are making a backup EOC at their City Hall / Police Department (central city limits) which will have many of the same features as the fire station. The City Hall building is much more sturdy (and safe) than the fire station. Setting up communications in City Hall is work in progress and like the fire station, weather radio reception was poor.  The hospital also has some radios and VERAS.  In fact, a bulk of the amateur radio traffic can be handled at the hospital if needed.

For a community this size, only three (3) are required. Because they are quite pro-active in monitoring weather trends, they seem to be ready for the weather but still rely on county communications via some of their methods. Weather radio reception is poor in Hillsboro, but with external antennas, the transmitter in Richland County (WWG89) would probably work just fine. The radios must also be set to monitor that frequency and not Coloma that does not broadcast alerts for Vernon County. 


Hydro-Meteorological Monitoring

There is a cooperative weather station in Hillsboro, at the Wastewater Treatment plant with a long history of service. They also monitor the automated USGS river gage for the South Branch of the Baraboo River via the Internet, in addition to our web site and television. The only anemometer was a hand-held Kestrel unit in one of their fire trucks that they take out spotting.

For a community this size, only one (1) is required.

When asked about getting rainfall totals from the treatment plant, they said they could not access that 24-hours a day. It was suggested a rain gauge be added to the fire station in addition to or part of a complete weather station at either City Hall or the fire station for monitoring peak wind gusts.


Local Warning Dissemination

Hillsboro has two outdoor warning sirens. One is located downtown, directly behind City Hall, and the other is on the southwest side of town, near a large outdoor park and the nearby schools. They can both be activated from the fire station or by the county (in Viroqua). They do not have backup power and can't be activated remotely (except by the county).

They normally activate them when under a warning or when local observations suggest an immediate threat, warning or no warning. They are tested both on a weekly and daily (6pm) basis.

Hillsboro uses a telephone tree to conduct follow-up calls to select contacts AFTER siren activation, including the hospital, industry, schools, grocery, hotel, etc. They also have documented in their severe weather action plan methods to alert the community using emergency vehicle sirens/PA systems if the outdoor sirens fail.

Hillsboro also has the Vernon Emergency Radio Alert System (V.E.R.A.S.) to alert officials at the hospital of any warnings.

For a community this size, only one (1) method is required. There did not appear to be any type of cable override system.


NOAA Weather Radio Use

NOAA Weather Radios (NWR) are located at the three main contact points - 1) Fire Station/EOC, 2) City Hall, and 3) Hospital.  A weather radio at the public library was also found, but not operating.  It is assumed all schools have them as well.

All radios checked were set to the wrong station (Coloma, WI) and had bad reception. Even when set to Richland County (WWG89) reception was fairly poor. External antennas were highly recommended. Confidence that weather radio alerts are reaching those who need it was low by the survey team. Also, we suggested strobe lights could be used on weather radios for industry in town that did not have radios because of loud operating environments.

NOTE: An additional weather radio transmitter might be needed in this area to improve reception. Or if a transmitter is added to boost coverage in eastern Monroe County (Tomah), perhaps the transmitter can be placed between Hillsboro and Tomah to help both areas.


Preparedness

There was no documented local severe weather awareness campaign or history of local safety talks.

SKYWARN weather spotter training was held in Hillsboro on March 20, 2007 (55 people).  They hope to host training there every other year (every odd year).  There are a few amateur radio operators in the community, including the emergency management director and main hospital contact.  Amateur radio use for spotting has increased across Vernon County over the past several years.


Administrative

Hillsboro has a relatively short severe weather action plan consisting of five sections: 1) Auxiliary Warning Systems, 2) Phone trees, 3) Authority to activate warning sirens, 4) Operations, 5) and training.

Hillsboro has been pro-active with regards to communication to the La Crosse NWS over the past several years.  They often will report directly to the NWS, but ensure the county also knows what is being observed.  Thomas Hotek has been accessible every time we've tried to solicit local information.

The NWS visited Hillsboro on 5/19/08 and officials from Hillsboro visited the NWS in March 2008.

Hillsboro fire hall spotting
Setup at the fire station/EOC. Backside of city hall and first outdoor warning siren. Second outdoor warning siren on southwest side of town.
Fire station/EOC. Radio setup at hospital. Aerial view of Hillsboro looking south.


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