Tuesday’s warning was only a test

Storm-weary Lawrencians could be forgiven if they got a bit jittery Tuesday afternoon when outdoor tornado sirens roared to life across Douglas County.

The alert was part of a statewide tornado drill during Severe Weather Awareness Week in Kansas, but it came two days after a devastating microburst of intense winds that did as much as $8 million in damage to Lawrence properties.

“This is the best time to do it, so people know how to prepare,” said Teri Smith, assistant director of Douglas County Emergency Management. “This gives them the opportunity to practice that.”

During Tuesday’s test, emergency officials tried to clear up any confusion about how they decide to sound the alert.

¢ The sirens are not turned on merely because the National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for the county.

“Usually, in a real situation, we would have to have local, visual confirmation (of a tornado) from our storm spotters before the sirens go on,” said Mark Cairns, a duty officer in the emergency management agency.

Kansas University Facility Operations personnel work to replace the windows at Budig Hall/Hoch Auditoria. The shards of many windows shattered during Sunday's storm were piled in the back of a truck Tuesday.

Bob Newton, another duty officer, said Lawrence residents began ignoring more frequent warnings during the 1970s, when severe thunderstorms would trigger the system. So the policy was changed.

“If we sounded the sirens for every severe thunderstorm warning, people would stop paying attention,” Newton said.

Lawrence sirens did sound Sunday morning after the microburst hit town – triggered by the winds’ widespread damage, officials said, and a report from one storm spotter.

¢ No all-clear signal will be given using the outdoor sirens. Residents, Newton said, should listen to radios and television to determine when it’s safe to emerge from shelter.

“You hear a siren, take cover,” he said. “You hear a siren again, take cover again.”

¢ On Tuesday, Newton also broadcast a test warning over the voice-activated alert system, but that doesn’t break into local television or radio programming. Such messages can be heard on a special all-hazards weather band radio that receives the alerts. Weather band radios can be purchased for around $30.