In the eye of the storm: The mystery, mayhem and majesty of Kansas weather. Learn about the power of severe weather, how to stay safe when a storm strikes, and how people affected by past storms have managed the rebuilding and aftermath of tornadoes striking home.
Thousands of area residents live without ready access to a basement, but that doesn’t mean they need to exist in fear as severe weather season approaches.
Jillian Blair, assistant director of Douglas County Emergency Management, notes that the best protection from nature’s wrath comes before Mother Nature can whip up a storm.
Personal security and safety emerge through preparation and planning, with people mapping a plan for where they’re going to go as severe weather strikes and then following through once the moment arrives.
“I know my place,” said Blair, whose Lawrence residence lacks a basement. “I know where I’m supposed to go. I have it ahead of time: Anytime severe weather comes, I grab my all-weather radio and I go where I need to go.
“Even in houses that don’t have basements people need to feel there’s a threat coming, so people will take cover. People need to make a decision to take cover. That’s the best decision for them, the one that’s going to make them the most safe.”
Blair and other emergency officials work year-round to educate people about the importance of finding safe and secure surroundings to wait out severe storms.
The effort is particularly essential in communities such as Lawrence, with its large number of living arrangements that do not have easy-to-access basements and other below-ground shelters. The city has hundreds of rental properties, dozens of apartment complexes and many of the county’s 31 mobile home parks.
Residents who lack easy access to a basement are particularly “vulnerable” during a storm event, Blair said, and therefore are among those who should be sure to plan ahead.
Be in contact with neighbors, friends or relatives about going to their basements when a storm arrives, she said. Or at least identify a place — a ground-level laundry room, bathroom, meeting room or other inner space — that could provide better shelter than an upstairs apartment or bedroom.
“Make sure you do that ahead of time, and not when the warnings are out and the sirens are blaring,” Blair said. “Don’t ask yourself, ‘What do I do now?’ ”
Randy Schimmel, manager of Mobile Village Mobile Home Park, 110 Mich., already sees plenty of that. He figures that fewer than 25 percent of the residents of the community’s 108 homes seek actual shelter — whether it’s going to a friend or relative’s house, walking over to the nearby Lawrence Memorial Hospital or descending into the mobile home park’s own communal underground storm shelter.
Everybody else — himself included — pretty much stays at home or stands around outside, watching the storms roll in.
“Most of the people just stay there,” said Schimmel, who’s lived in and around the park along Michigan and Arkansas streets for 33 years. “Even if there’s a tornado on the ground, they just stay in their homes.”
Blair acknowledges that there’s no law requiring that residences provide basements or storm shelters, and that nobody could be forced into using such protections should they become available.
That’s why planning ahead is the most important protection people can offer themselves.
“Just have some kind of plan, so you know where you can go,” she said. “It’s a personal responsibility thing.”