A failed generator system and problems with the county's outdoor-warning sirens were some of the issues that complicated the emergency response in the hours after Sunday's storm hit.
Around 10 p.m. Sunday, emergency dispatchers had to revert to taking notes by hand after the new generator started dying at the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.
The generator - bought by the county in 2004 with a $100,000 federal homeland-security grant - had been running all day after power went out in the downtown area.
Emergency Management Director Paula Phillips said after the generator had exhausted the fuel in a 100-gallon tank meant to provide energy for one day, a pump that provided more fuel from a 1,500-gallon underground tank didn't work.
"The pump went out. We don't know why, and the sensor board in the generator was not sensing that the day tank was low, and it wasn't able to communicate with the pump to go on," she said.
When the generator was finally able to communicate with the pump, the pump still didn't go on, she said.
"Like people, equipment fails, regardless of what you do," she said.
As power in the building went out, dispatchers briefly were unable to communicate with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical, and a computer-aided dispatching system slowly died, said Selma Southard, assistant director of emergency communication.
Eventually, the county rolled its phone lines over to the Kansas University dispatch center, she said.
Power was restored to the law enforcement building around 12:30 a.m. Monday, Phillips said.
March 12, 2006, Storm
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Also, after a second severe-thunderstorm warning hit the area around 1 p.m. Sunday, police from various local agencies reverted to driving through neighborhoods with sirens and lights flashing to warn people to seek shelter. Phillips said the reason was that, at the time, it wasn't clear whether the outdoor sirens would work should they be needed again.
After the first storm, the sirens did not respond to radio signals sent out by a computer system that confirm the sirens are working, she said.
"The sirens were not communicating back to us. We were unsure as to whether or not they were actually going to work," she said. "Later on we found out they were working the whole time. ... Because of the volatility of the situation, we could not afford to take the time to run a report and see what the report says."
It turns out the outdoor sirens wouldn't have been used anyway because there was no tornado warning issued during the afternoon.
Phillips said having officers driving through the area was not ideal.
"In the past, this has always been a plan that had been discussed. It has never been implemented," she said. "When you're doing something like that you can't cover the entire population, so you aim for the most dense areas... We don't want to have to rely on that because, number one, it takes important resources from other potential critical needs, and not everyone could hear it. Do you really want people in severe weather going outdoors to listen?"
Eudora Police Chief Greg Dahlem said he was in Lawrence helping with the response when he decided to ask his officers to start going around notifying people of the coming storm.
"There was no major decision between the sheriff and the Lawrence chief and the fire chief or anything like that," he said. "I told my officers to go around telling people to make warnings."
Phillips on Monday said she believed the agency acted properly by not sounding outdoor sirens prior to Sunday's storm, echoing comments the previous day by assistant director Teri Smith.
"If we start activating the outdoor warning sirens every time there's a severe thunderstorm, we're going to be accused of crying wolf, and people will not pay attention," she said. "We do not have the luxury in severe thunderstorms of as much advance notice as, say, a hurricane. Severe thunderstorms are much like an earthquake. You just don't know exactly where in the storm cell or the system is going to be the most severe part."
Phillips emphasized that sirens are only intended for people to hear them outdoors, and she said the best way to be prepared is to buy an "all-hazard" weather radio that broadcasts weather warnings.
"They're the most effective personal-warning device," she said.
An emergency notification system did not cut into Sunflower Broadband programming at any time during Sunday's storms. Patrick Knorr, general manager of Sunflower Broadband, said the company's system was only configured to receive automatic warnings for tornado warnings.
"We received a complaint several years ago that it tripped too often. The way it was configured, it was set only for tornado warnings," he said on Monday. "We did change that because of this. I asked that it be changed a few minutes ago."
Still, Knorr said, employees checked the cable system's logs and didn't see any records of severe thunderstorm warnings, which means even if the company had been set up to receive the warnings via the radio, they wouldn't have come through.
The warnings that reach Sunflower Broadband are normally relayed automatically by FM radio stations in Topeka after the radio station is notified by the National Weather Service of a warning affecting Douglas County.
"The bottom line is our system didn't log the message coming from the radio," Knorr said. "Our system didn't receive the alert either way."
Knorr said there is a manual override option on the cable emergency alert system, but that it is too slow and cumbersome to operate in the event of a weather warning.
"It would take too long to implement in an emergency," Knorr said.
Rather, the manual system is mainly for testing purposes or long-term emergency situations. However, Sunday a power outage knocked the system off-line, leaving Sunflower Broadband without the option of using it even it wanted to.
There were other problems early Sunday. One of the two radio stations, WIBW, didn't broadcast the alert message.
A few years ago when emergency alerts were handled under a different system, the county's Emergency Operations Center would have had the ability to step in and issue the alert over cable stations themselves.
But under the new automated system, the county has no say over the alerts that go out.
"We're looking for ways to give the (county) some function," Knorr said. "The system doesn't have that today."
Without county input, Sunflower Broadband was stuck, Knorr said, because it doesn't broadcast severe thunderstorm warnings even if it does pick up the radio signals.
Knorr admitted that it was a problem Sunday, and said that the station would review policy to see what needs to be corrected.
"Because of these events, we're evaluating all those things to see if we can do things better," he said.
Many city traffic signals also were rendered inoperable by the storm. But by Monday afternoon, all the traffic signals in the city were working, with the exception of the light at 17th and Massachusetts Streets, said David Woosley, the city's traffic engineer.
The storm kept emergency dispatchers unusually busy regardless of infrastructure glitches.
Lawrence-Douglas County Fire & Medical took about 150 calls between 8 a.m. Sunday and 8 a.m. Monday, compared with an average of 23 or 24 per day, Division Chief Bill Stark said. Most of the calls were because of power lines or damage to homes, and he said he didn't know of any severe injuries caused directly by the weather.
Four Kansas University students were arrested early Monday morning on suspicion of burglarizing two businesses in an area near downtown that was heavily damaged by storms. Police encountered the men in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street and recovered a box of Kansas State University sweatshirts valued at $600 belonging to Sun Creations, 826 Pa., as well as more than $4,000 in power tools and other equipment belonging to Harris Construction, 720 E. Ninth St.