Some rural areas near Kansas tornado had no siren coverage – Butler County Times-Gazette

By Margaret Stafford Associated Press

Sedgwick County officials acknowledge that some residents living in rural areas likely did not hear the sirens going off before an EF-3 tornado roared through parts of Kansas County last week.

While much of the attention after the April 29 overnight storm focused on the heavily populated suburb of Andover in Wichita, rural areas near the city and adjacent Butler County also suffered damage. significant due to a tornado that was on the ground for nearly 13 miles (20.92 kilometers).

Several homes were damaged and three people were injured in a rural neighborhood named Gypsum Township about a mile outside of Wichita. Some residents told local media they did not hear any sirens before the tornado hit.

Sedgwick County Director of Emergency Management Julie Stimson said Thursday that emergency management officials are consulting siren suppliers and Geographic Information System data in a complicated process to determine where sirens are. placed.

Stimson pointed out that sirens were never intended to warn people inside their homes or other structures. The main factor, therefore, is to ensure that the sirens are in places where people might be outside, such as schools, parks and commercial areas.

“Under ideal conditions, each siren would warn people within a mile of sound,” Stimson said. “But in reality, that sound won’t always cut through the sound of a storm, especially a tornado.”

Stimson and Sedgwick County Commissioner Jim Howell said residents should rely on a combination of sirens, weather radios, cellphone alerts and local media reports for tornado warnings.

While he sympathizes with those whose homes have been damaged or destroyed, it’s unrealistic to expect the county to have sirens in place to be heard everywhere in rural areas, Howell said.

Sedgwick County has 152 sirens to cover approximately 1009 square miles (2613.30 square kilometers), most of them in towns. The county budgets about $110,000 annually for siren maintenance, and each new siren costs about $32,000. The county plans to install up to five new sirens each year, though commissioners aren’t involved in determining siren locations, Howell said.

“Even with upgrades, we’ll never fill every dead spot in the county,” Howell said. “The government cannot keep everyone safe. We are here to help, but adults have to take some responsibility to educate themselves, have a plan and be alert (as storms approach),” he said.

Harold Brooks, a senior researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma, said every technology used to warn people of severe weather has limits — a siren can fail, a cell phone tower can be knocked down or media outlets cannot cover all parts of a full-scale storm.

“Because the technology is better, we embraced the idea that we should be able to communicate perfectly with people,” he said. “In reality, that’s not true… It’s the individual’s responsibility to be prepared and to be aware.”

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