Archive for Friday, May 9, 2008

Siren call

Sounding the county’s tornado sirens too often could lessen their usefulness.

May 9, 2008


With the devastation of the tornado that struck Greensburg last year still fresh in their minds, it's not surprising that local residents have a heightened concern about tornados and tornado warnings.

Those concerns came to the surface last week when strong straight-line winds hit the Lawrence area and a tornado touched down briefly near Clinton Lake. Although the storm did significant damage, the county did not sound its tornado sirens because it never had confirmation of the tornado that was on the ground for about two minutes before lifting back into the clouds just after 1 a.m. Friday morning.

The fact that the sirens weren't sounded has drawn criticism and prompted plans to review the county's siren policy. Reviewing the policy is a good move, but residents should be aware that deciding when to sound the tornado sirens can be a difficult balancing act.

As the policy now stands, the tornado sirens are a signal that a tornado is on the ground and that people should take shelter immediately. It is a sign of imminent danger and shouldn't be ignored. If the sirens are sounded every time conditions are favorable for tornados or damaging winds, it is far more likely that they would become like the boy who cried "wolf" so often that he was ignored when an attack eventually occurred.

Modern weather forecasting offers ample warning of potentially dangerous storms. The county's emergency sirens aren't intended to replace television and radio weather reports; they are intended to alert residents to dire weather conditions.

Perhaps the county's review will come up with alternative ways to use the sirens. Maybe shorter blasts could be used to warn of dangerous storms while longer blasts signify a tornado on the ground. A tornado warning issued by the National Weather Service might be considered sufficient to blow sirens even without a confirmed sighting.

Whatever is decided, it is important not to overuse the siren system. While some residents might like to hear the sirens whenever there is any hint of danger, such frequency could encourage residents to ignore or react slowly to the sirens when a deadly situation does arise. The county's storm sirens are only useful if people pay attention to them.

The county was fortunate that no one was injured in last week's storms, and reviewing the county's siren policy is a good step. However, residents should remember that while the tornado siren system is an important public safety tool, it will lose its effectiveness if it is overused.


Jim Phillips 10 years ago

The difference is that if the sirens sound and I choose not to take cover, that is on me. If it's your responsibility to inform the public of a potentially dangerous situation and you fail to do your job, that's on you. You do not get to decide what is in the best interest of me and my family.

KsTwister 10 years ago

Of course they could always choose not to sound them when needed and count the lawsuits later too.

akt2 10 years ago

How did our ancestors before us ever survive without tornado sirens? What about the rural residents? What about the German Baptists featured on the front page today. No radio, TV or internet. Apparently some were and are able to protect themselves, and their family without relying on government agencies or media. That would involve common sense and actual knowledge of what is going on around them. However I doubt that they were or are sitting ducks in a slab house waiting for someone to blow a siren.

beeline 10 years ago

It is up to Mother Nature how much they are used. A busy storm season will see more activation. This does not dilute my attention. The emergency managers need to update the activation policy to reflect modern science. It is much safer to NOT have people spread out over a storm front looking for a black cloud to decend from a black sky. It does sound interesting, though. We should be using available resources to tell us a tornado is on the ground. Three or four times a season is not crying wolf. It is being safe.

thelonious 10 years ago

After reading this editorial, based on his defense of not blowing the sirens last week, it became apparent to was really Dolph who decided not to blow the sirens. :-)Another thought.....have these folks (Bob Newton, Dolph, etc.) been though the "Leadership Lawrence" program? If so, that would be one more strike against these kind of "touch-feely" theory based leadership programs. From what can I see our community "leaders" all think alike, cover each others' butts, etc. That's not leadership at all. Leadership would be taking a stand for what is right, popular or not, even if it means calling out a friend for a mistake, which in this case would be.....To blow the tornado sirens whenever there is a NWS issued tonado warning! Duh, duh, and duh again!I mean, come on, this is just pure common sense. Is there perhaps lead (pronounced led) in the Lawrence drinking water? If so, I better get out of here fast - I've only been here six years, I still have hope.Heckuva job, Brownie Newton.

mistygreen 10 years ago

If the sirens are sounded every time conditions are favorable for tornados or damaging winds, it is far more likely that they would become like the boy who cried "wolf" so often that he was ignored when an attack eventually occurred.I cannot believe this is a valid argument. Where do they get their information that the sirens will be activated every time the conditions are favorable? That is not what the people want. They want an EOC that can be accountable and that we as the public can trust. As far as I am concerned that TRUST has been broken. We live in TORNADO ALLEY FGS! It is not unrealistic to have severe weather. If anything, the policy needs to be changed for the overnight hours as I cannot believe they can have spotters covering every inch of the county, and can actually see one touch down in darkness.

S0uPnAzi 10 years ago

I tend to agree with most of the opinions here, I think it should be left up to me to decide if I want to take cover, etc. For someone else to decide whether or not I am able to make those kinds of decisions for myself is part of what troubles me about America today. Just blow the friggin' horns if the weather looks really bad and there is a potential of tornadoes!! Let common sense prevail!

justthefacts 10 years ago

How many tornado WARNINGS are issued by the NWS in a year's time? How many warnings (not watches) are issued after it is DARK? Is that number high? While I certainly hope people do not ignore sirens, I also hope we use sirens to warn people. Surely there is a "happy medium" somewhere. There was a radar spotted tornado the other night. As it turns out, there really was one. And the sirens were not used to warn people. What good are the sirens if we only use them when people spot a tornado? Isn't that going to be too late (or not at all) in many cases? Why have the sirens at all if we aren't going to use them when the NWS issues a tornado WARNING (not watch)?Per our own county's web site: "A TORNADO WARNING is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. Take Cover Immediately!" Or indicated by radar = there are times when the sirens should sound but no person has yet spotted the tornado. And at night would be a good choice - because it is much harder to see them in the dark!! Duh.

monkeyspunk 10 years ago

The defenders of the the county crack me up!Not one can give a good reason why the current policy is adequate. Dolph's "Boy who cried wolf" metaphor is utterly ignorant, and just proves that his editorials should just be ignored. The continuous "Oh don't depend on the sirens" statements, or "buy a weather radio" statements do nothing to discount the arguments of those that want the policy changed. The county has one way to notify citizens of impending danger from above, and that is the sirens. Even the current EM director believes that the current number is not enough and requested more last year. So the arguments about their effectiveness should be discounted because even those in charge see them as a useful tool to notify citizens. The county can fire the sirens off for specific areas around the county and city. The NWS is fairly specific about the areas under tornado warnings. It seems fairly simple to me to utilize the tools in place to help save lives.Does this mean spotters are useless? No, never. Should the NWS fail to spot something, should their algorithms or whatever miss something, nothing can replace a good pair of human eye balls. Even then, spotters should be seen as a back up, or contingency should the NWS fail, and not a necessary condition to sound the sirens. In the end, these devices are in place to save lives.. Call it melodramatic or whatever you want, but that is a fact.

JerryStubbs 10 years ago

I think I was under the mis-understanding that the sirens were just for Lawrence, but I looked at that map ( see link up above) and they are spread out quite a bit. Enough that they might have at least set those off in the area where they had that touchdown. It was quite a storm with very high winds, I know there was lots of damage spread around the county. Did they even give one blast on the sirens anywhere at all?

Angela Heili 10 years ago

akt2, the people of Lawrence have grown to depend on the sirens because the emergency management have said, when there is a tornado warning we will sound the sirens. Come on. Where is people's common sense? If we didn't have sirens of course we wouldn't depend on them! But we do, so we have grown to listen for them when there is a tornado in the area. If they aren't going to us them when there is a tornado warning, then just scrap them and get rid of the darn things! I grew up in SW kansas, and we really didn't need sirens because it was flat enough and little trees that you could see the tornadoes long before they got to you.It's not like that here. With all the trees and it's a bit more hilly, you can't see the horizon as easily. You need an early warning system to know if there is a tornado out there, especially in the dark. I have a weather radio. It didn't go off! Yes it has batteries! Yes I know when the sky turns green it's not good, yes I know when everything goes silent all of a sudden that a tornado is in the area, but by then it's too late! Yes I know that as long as rain is coming down, a tornado isn't right there, because you can't have a tornado sucking things up and the rain coming down all at the same time. I know that you don't have to have a tornado for someone to get hurt or killed. All you need is very strong winds. Strong enough to knock trees over, or rip buildings apart, or throw things through buildings.But what about all the people that don't know all that? What about all the people that didn't grow up in the country and had to depend on learning the signs from mother nature? What about all the people that don't have weather degrees or other formal education, etc enough to know when to take cover?Is it just too bad so sad, for them?

Kelly Anderson 10 years ago

okay, seriouslyThey are comparing this to the boy who cried wolf??!!!! We had a tornado WARNING for Douglas County....west of Lawrence, conditions were favorable.....I don't understand how we would get complacent on the sirens going off if they are only sounded when there is a WARNING for our area.....not when they think that a "trained" spotter thinks he/she sees something in the dark and phones it in!!!! Black and white people.....NWS says tornado warning for a certain area....that certain area has an obligation to WARN people in that area, not make a judgement call!!!

tunahelper 10 years ago

mr fig newton was LUCKY nobody died, the county would have had a HUGE lawsuit to deal with. what a moron.

thelonious 10 years ago

A question for Douglas County emergency management, Bob Newton, Dolph, and all other apologists for the decision not to sound the sirens last week.How exactly do you call sounding the WARNING sirens when there was a NWS TORNADO WARNING for Lawrence crying wolf? What planet are you all from? No one is suggesting sounding them for a TORNADO WATCH - we are suggesting they be sounded for a TORNADO WARNING. You all do know the difference, right?

gphawk89 10 years ago

"Never rely on warning sirens. Buy a weather radio."I bought one but it's useless. My wife made me unplug after it went off in the middle of the night and scared her awake...

Jim Phillips 10 years ago

So tell me, what exactly do some of you have against utilizing equipment that is already in place for the purpose it was put in place for? I would bet you would be the first to cry foul if you called the fire department because your house was burning and someone decided it wasn't a serious enough threat to warrant coming out. After all, you have a garden hose don't you? Isn't that personal responsibility? Do the sirens hurt your ears or are you the type to go hunting grizzlies with a switch?

notjustastudent 10 years ago

was anyone else awake for the actual storm? If you were you may have noticed THE WIND! wind like that is so loud I doubt the sirens would even be audible. I, for one don't have access to a basement unless I go outside, and doing that would have been extremely dangerous. I'm also pretty sure that the tornado warning hadn't been issued well before the very brief tornado touched down-- rather it had just been issued, because the tornado had just been detected. besides, straight lines winds can send debris through windows just as easily as a tornado can cause damage. And it doesn't take sirens, a weather radio, electricity, text messages, phone calls, a TV, or anything else mentioned to figure out that the wind that night was extremely dangerous, so people should have known to stay away from their windows, and move to an interior room in their house. Oh wait! that's what you're supposed to do in a tornado too...

Fred Whitehead Jr. 10 years ago

I think I agree with most of these comments, the sirens are there for a warning, a warning was issued by the NWS and the failure to activate the taxpayer supplied warning sirens is bprdering on criminal in my opinion. And the argument that people will become complacent is also fradulant. Police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances all have sirens to warn of their presence, and are heard much more commonly than tornado sirens. Does this logic suggest that people are deaf to these emergency vehicles due to their "overuse"?????? If this logic holds water, then we are paying a lot of county money to buy sirens for the police, fire department and ambulance service, because our county officials think that "overuse" will cause complacancy. What a pile of horse droppings!The citizens have bought and paid for a warning system and the warning by the National Weather Service of tornados or damaging weather is plenty good reason to sound the sirens to warn anyone, outside, inside or on the moon. The logic expressed by these dunderheaded officals is full of holes and may well be responsible for future loss of life in Douglas County. Better safe than sorry and if some dumb idiot decides on his own that the sirens are "not for me", well then, let Divine Providence take charge of matters, it is not for doctrinaire numb-skull idiologues to decide.

Fatty_McButterpants 10 years ago

"You do not get to decide what's in the best interests of me or my family."- Um, aren't you saying that they DO get to decide? If you think it's dangerous out, why wait for a siren? Why not take shelter of your own accord? Are you one of those people that also needs a "Caution: Coffee is hot" sign on their cup?

rhernandez 10 years ago

Of course they do not need to be sounded everytime conditions are favorable. That is a WATCH! Do these people even live in Kansas? But a WARNING does indicate a serious need to be... well, warned. These people are nuts. I have to admit that I don't follow city issues very closely but WHAT is the big reason for not wanting to use the sirens? Does it cost tons of $$$ or is it simply the "cried wolf" theory? Either way it is ridiculous!!!!

simplykristib 10 years ago

The policy was probably put in place before the invention of Doppler radar . Why do you think that the lead times on tornado warnings are so much better? Doppler radar and storm velocity! Anyone who follows weather closely knows that tornadoes can occur at any time with a severe thunderstorm.

zissou 10 years ago

I like that the sirens can let me know when bad weather is brewing and I should flip on the TV. Couldn't a system be worked out that one sort of siren means one thing, another sound means something else?

blakus 10 years ago

I called the waaaaambulance for you all. It is called a weather radio... if you do not have one then get one. It is more effective then sirens because you recieve the same information at the same time that the 'siren' operators do. Weather radios can be battery operated. An outlet-operated radio is useless. I hope your flashlights don't rely on the power grid. How long have some of you lived in Kansas and still havn't figured this out? Living in one of the most tornado prone areas in the world, every Kansan should have a weather radio.

LawmomX3 10 years ago

I have to agree with the majority of the comments here. The only way I knew we were in a warning is because of a text message. It is a proven fact that more people are injured or killed due to night time tornados and we didn't even get the message we were in a warning. All I can say is the city better be glad this turned out better than it could have.

iloveyoutoo 10 years ago

"Mr Fast Paced and so full of himself, and yet someone is suppose to be sure you don't have to take personal responsibility for yourself when the big, bad, tornado comes after you. Weather radio, my brother, it comes right from the NWS." - JackRipperUmmm a weather radio isn't personal responsibility .... you're just relying on a radio instead of a siren. According to all of these tough guys on here, personal responsibility would be: "....common sense and actual knowledge of what is going on around them..."-akt2The arguments in this article have already been rebutted by lots of Lawrence residents on this forum. The author should have taken time to read those comments before writing this.

verity 10 years ago

akt2 says: How did our ancestors before us ever survive without tornado sirens . . .?Many didn't. A lot more people got killed by tornados in the past than do now---anyone remember the tornado in Udall? I do---it hit at night and nobody knew it was coming. I can't remember exactly how many people, but I think it was 60-80. Compare that to the fatalities in Greensburg.The siren is not the only thing to be depended on for a warning, that's just silly for people to try to make that an argument, but that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be used when call for, along with every other means available.For some people it may be the only warning they get.Thank you.

Gina Bailey-Carbaugh 10 years ago

tuna, no it wouldn't. There is no legality in sounding or not sounding a siren. That makes as much sense as someone suing the county cuz they fell down the stairs responding to a siren sounding due to favorable conditions for a tornado, as so many here want to have happen. Yeesh.

JerryStubbs 10 years ago

Do all the sirens for the whole county have to go off all at once, or can they localize them to where the intense activity is?

iloveyoutoo 10 years ago

With all due respect JackRipper you are still relying on a piece of electronic equipment to warn you. Others rely on sirens. It's not that EVERYONE is depending on the sirens to alert them, but maybe that is the only possible chance of warning SOME people. It's about covering all of your bases and possibly saving lives. I will say it again: I believe that we should utilize every tool we have to warn people including, but not limited to, weather radios, television, internet, cell phones, land lines, and sirens. And, as many have pointed out, sirens, I suppose, are "designed" for people outside (even though that doesn't mean that NO ONE will hear them indoors) so I think it is only fair that those that are outside not near a cell phone, radio, or tv should be warned as well. I don't believe that's too much to ask.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 10 years ago

It will lose it's effectiveness when they are not blown when we are under a tornado WARNING by the nws. That is why we have them, duh! Thank you, Lynn

bearded_gnome 10 years ago

*****This is without a doubt, the stupidest, most ill-considered editorial I have ever read in this award-winning Lawrence Journal-World!
****indeed, the content includes an attempt to mislead readers, no one is advocating for sounding sirens during a watch! why is this even in the editorial? is there some reason they have so obvious a false-argument in there? the sirens are one component to warning people. not the only component. weather radios, great. you wanna get a scanner and listen to the spotters themselves? it is good information and the spotters work hard and have put hard work into their training. sometimes, they can't see the tornado. sometimes, they aren't in position to see it. jerry, there are important psychological reasons why you don't want a siren on continuous tone, the mind starts categorizing it as background noise. if it is intermittent, and changing in pitch, then it is far more likely to get attention and be heard, especially under high noise conditions.
also, the policy should be changed to allow for sounding the sirens in case of high straightline winds as was the case that night; the tornado out near clinton lake didn't do much damage or threaten many lives. the high winds did far more damage. change the policy to allow for this; the spotters did* report high straightline winds.

JerryStubbs 10 years ago

ANd now I also remember my power went out, so I couldn't turn on the TV (in fact I unplugged stuff because of the incredible electrical activity). I do have one of those little hand crank radios, but not everybody does.

JerryStubbs 10 years ago

It says on the DG county web site they sound the sirens for 3 mins, then off and on. Maybe they should at least give a test blast whenever conditions are at a certain level, then set a level of sound based on severity. I would prefer if there was an F5 they just turn it on and leave it continuous. I would want to evacuate my house and go to a very secure shelter. But for a lessor storm I would stay in my own basement.I've changed my mind about this in general. I have to say, looking at the map with all those zones, they should have at least set off some of them for a lttle bit.

justtired 10 years ago

how come the county officials suddenly became the all knowing about the weather? at least the weather forecasters have the guts to admit the "jet stream shifted." if we wait for the county, we could be blown into the jet stream!!

Oracle_of_Rhode 10 years ago

Southwest Lawrence = tornado bait. If I lived over there I'd demand a policy where the sirens sound as a matter of policy with every NWS warning. By the way, this editorial intentionally misleads its readers with the "If the sirens are sounded every time conditions are favorable for tornados or damaging winds, it is far more likely that they would become like the boy who cried 'wolf'" argument. Firstly, you misspelled "tornadoes."Secondly, when the NWS issues a warning -- not a watch, but a warning -- the NOAA says it's because a "a tornado has actually been sighted by spotters or indicated on radar and is occurring or imminent in the warning area."

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