Emergency officer: ‘It never crossed my mind to activate the tornado warning sirens’

As many Douglas County residents have noted, the sirens did not sound early Friday morning despite a tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service in Topeka.

Bob Newton, the overnight’s duty officer for Douglas County Emergency Management, said, “it never crossed my mind to activate the tornado warning sirens last night.”

He said Douglas County has a stringent policy that requires a weather service warning to be confirmed, when possible by trained storm spotters or law enforcement. Newton said the county had storm spotters out and they never saw rotation nor thought there was a high likelihood of a tornado touching down.

Newton also said that in Douglas County, sirens are almost never activated purely because of wind.

That’s not the case in all counties. In Shawnee County, for instance, the sirens were activated at the request of the National Weather Service, emergency management director Dave Sterbenz said.

“We set our sirens off if that happens or if one of our trained spotters sees one,” he said. “Right after they called us, a spotter saw one and they would have gone off anyway.”

Chuck Magaha, emergency management director in Leavenworth County, never set the sirens off in his county, but said he usually would consider it when a storm is capable of producing 80 mph winds or greater. Friday morning’s storm had winds of 70 mph, recorded at the Lawrence airport and 6News Chief Meteorologist Jennifer Schack said they may have been as great as 80 mph in Lawrence.

Douglas County Kansas Outdoor Warning Siren Policy


The outdoor warning sirens for any or all of the cities in Douglas County are activated when a local determination is made that a tornado threat to the area exists. This determination is made by Douglas County Emergency Management staff and will be based on the evaluation of all available information. This may include, but is not limited to, National Weather Service watch and/or warning text, weather radar and reports from trained weather spotters or law enforcement officers.

The decision to activate the sirens will normally be made by the Emergency Management Duty Officer. If no such person is on duty or that person is not immediately available, the jurisdictional senior law enforcement officer on duty will make the decision and direct the Emergency Communications Center staff to activate the sirens.

Douglas County has the capability of activating all of the sirens at once or more selectively by activating one or more of the six siren zones. All sirens are sounded unless the threat is clearly confined to an individual zone(s). The sirens will be sounded for three minutes initially, and then intermittently throughout the warning period as needed. There is NO “all-clear” siren.


The outdoor warning sirens will be tested on a regular basis. The test will occur at 12 Noon on the first Monday during the months August through February, and on the first and third Monday during the months March through July. Additionally, conducted each morning at 9:00AM an operational poll of each siren is conducted. This is an automatic poll conducted by the computer software program.