Archive for Sunday, June 12, 2011

Douglas County Emergency Management reminds residents to not rely solely on sirens during severe weather

June 12, 2011


Google Map

Douglas County outdoor warning system

View Douglas County outdoor warning system in a larger map

The last time the emergency sirens went off in Douglas County, Jeff Stolz barely heard the sound over the music playing in his house.

Stolz, who’s lived about a block from one of the county’s outdoor sirens for three years, said if the tunes had been any louder he might not have heard them at all.

He’s not alone.

After an EF-5 tornado devastated Joplin, Mo., in late May, Stolz says he will be more cautious when the sirens sound.

He’ll check the media to “find out why they’re going off,” he said.

With this being storm season, it’s likely Douglas County residents haven’t heard the last of the emergency weather alert, if they’ve heard them at all. Teri Smith, director of Douglas County Emergency Management, said many people misunderstand the purpose of the sirens.

“It is intended for people who are outdoors,” Smith said. “It’s intended for people who are not able to access local media.”

Smith said the sirens shouldn’t be residents’ sole means of severe weather notification. She said it was important for people to be aware of the daily forecast and to have access to local weather information.

The operational sirens, of which the county currently has 35, are still an important notification tool. Sounded when the threat of a tornado is real, the sirens can serve as a first notice to seek shelter. The outdoor weather alert system can be used in a variety of ways. Individual sirens can be activated, or they can be turned on by specific zones or countywide.

Notification of severe weather can also come from a variety of sources. The National Weather Service, weather spotters and local law enforcement are all capable of calling in severe storm warnings that lead to activating the sirens.

For people like Aman Reaka, the sirens are simply a formality. A Douglas County trained weather spotter and Skywarn member for the past seven years, Reaka has seen his share of tornadoes. He’s seen funnel clouds drop over Clinton Lake, watched tornadoes move across Lawrence and De Soto, and he’s followed severe storms across the county, delivering the report resulting in the activation of the sirens on several occasions.

“By the time we hear them, it’s usually expected,” Reaka said. “If I don’t hear a siren, that’s when I get a bit nervous.”

To help ensure more residents are hearing the emergency warnings, the county recently approved the purchase of four new outdoor sirens, each of which costs about $20,000. The additional sirens will help cover more populated areas across the county.

Keeping the sirens in working condition is a task that a newer county system has helped streamline. Each morning a poll is conducted that lets emergency management staff know which sirens are operational and which are not. Notifications for outages are also sent to staff members’ smartphones and sirens have backup battery power in the event of lightning strikes, which Smith said don’t happen often.

Douglas County Emergency Management maintains a Facebook page and sends timely updates through its Twitter account to help keep residents aware and informed during severe weather. Smith said residents should be prepared, which includes owning a weather radio and having easy access to local weather media.

“We all need to have multiple ways to get the notifications,” Smith said. “It’s another way for us to get that information. That’s a true benefit in this community.”


Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

I was rather surprised a few weeks ago when there were multiple postings on this forum stating that people could not hear the sirens very near my home, and they should be louder.

They were certainly loud enough where I live, at 6th and Wakarusa! I think that many people are in denial of th fact that hearing acuity lessens with age.

And I sure do remember the big tornado here in Lawrence that did a lot of damage and killed one man in '81 because I was literally underneath it, and I did realize what was happening. But, the sirens did not go off at all for some reason.

So it is certainly true that residents not rely solely on sirens during severe weather!

Doug Fisher 6 years, 10 months ago

The tornado of 1981 struck so fast the warning came 5 minutes after it lifted. But miraculously only 1 person died in that storm. Regardless, it's best not to rely on sirens when indoors.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 6 years, 10 months ago

I appreciate having the sirens for warning, but the real problem is apathy to them.

I fault the meidia coverage, every time a cloud drifts over and drops three raindrops, the TV outlets start trying to out-scream each other with shouts of "wall cloud", "rotation", "touchdown" and generally raising the alarm that "we are all gonna die!" One Kansas City station flaunts a telephone warning system, "If you are in the path of "severe weather" we will call you on your telephone".

The real solutionis to stay aware. Get your heads out of the IPhone, WIIII, soap opera, and other distractions and pay attention to what is going on outside and get your weather radio turned on. Don't have a weather alert radio?? Get one! You will get a lot better coverage than the KC TV stations trying to out do each other with predictions of the apocalypse on the horizon.

HRCJJ 6 years, 10 months ago

Actually my iphone, with the help of twitter, is one of the best tools I have when a storm is near. I learn way more from that than anything else.

Ron Holzwarth 6 years, 10 months ago

I have noticed that problem when on the road near one. You need to have your car windows rolled up.

George_Braziller 6 years, 10 months ago

I watched the sky get darker and darker and flipped between The Weather Channel and Channel 6 as the "microburst" was developing. Weather Channel showed that something was coming but the sirens weren't sounded until 15 minutes after everything was over.

Jake Esau 6 years, 10 months ago

I have a NOAA weather radio in my house that will go off for a warning. I can barely hear the sirens at my house in Johnson County (they use the same type of sirens as Douglas County), all it takes is a little rain on the roof to drown them out.

I agree that the best preparedness though is to be aware of the weather forecast for the day, especially if there's a watch in effect.

somedude20 6 years, 10 months ago

I, as always, get most of my news and info from the LJW. Not really the paper so much but from the wonderful people who are so knowledgeable about anything and everything and write about it here in the forums. Thank you too all who supply us with the most recent fair and balanced news. You make my day!

Commenting has been disabled for this item.