Just because Kansas — at least this part of Kansas — has been hotter and dryer than normal this spring, doesn’t mean that conditions won’t change.
Like in just an hour or two, and we could find ourselves with lots of moisture being pumped in and plenty of heat to fuel sever weather.
So it is best to make plans before the weather system moves in, experts warn.
Local experts have been concerned for some time about the preparedness of many local residents and they continue to ask the public to think ahead about what they would do in an emergency.
For one thing, they need people to understand that the answer to an emergency is NOT to seek “public shelters.”
They don’t exist. This issue began to be a problem a few years ago when certain public buildings began to be visited by people when the severe weather sirens would sound. A few years ago, people began — in fairly large numbers — to come to expect there to be “public shelters.”
That causes some real problems.
“Public shelters” don’t exist, and if you consider the situation, it’s easy to see why. Any public facility that remains open in the midst of a tornado warning is probably run by people who are there for emergencies themselves.
So they are rather busy during severe weather.
As was found in the days after Hurricane Katrina, just because you let hundreds of people into a public building during a storm, doesn’t mean they are safe, unless, of course, you have a constant security presence. They may be safe from the storm, but they aren’t necessarily safe from each other. That was when public safety officials began to encourage the public to plan ahead, to meet with family and friends in their neighborhoods, churches, and work to make sure that everyone has somewhere safe to go in a weather emergency.
Another problem, as County Communications Director Doug Hubbard explains, is that people misuse the safety facilities that do exist.
“Often times, Barton County Communications/9-1-1 are bombarded during severe weather with calls that are not true emergencies. This year, Barton County Communications/9-1-1 are taking the time to try to educate the public before severe weather hits,” he urged.
“Barton County Communications and Barton County Emergency Management officials want to remind the public that it is their responsibility to be prepared and know what to do in the event of severe weather or a tornado.
“Barton County Communications conducts weekly test of the tornado sirens every Tuesday at noon. If the weather outside is cloudy and overcast, the sirens may not be tested. That decision is made by a law enforcement official in every city in Barton County. If the conditions outside are favorable for severe weather, and you hear the sirens sounding, do not call 9-1-1 to ask why the sirens are sounding. Take cover immediately,” Hubbard urged.
He agreed that seeking shelter is something the public needs to address before there is an emergency. “Barton County does not have a public storm shelter. It is the responsibility of the citizens to have a plan in place. That plan should include where to take shelter, and what items may be needed when shelter is taken.
“Shelter should be taken in the lowest level of your home, or a room with the least amount of windows or no windows at all. That shelter should have an emergency kit in it with basic survival tools until the severe weather or tornado passes. A good emergency kit should include a flash light with extra batteries, a blanket, food and drinking water, shoes, identification, cash-small bills only, identification and emergency contact information, and a portable radio with extra batteries or a weather radio.”
He added there are times when it IS appropriate to call emergency personnel.
As a basic reminder, the following are times when conditions warrant a call to 9-1-1 in severe weather:
• When you see a tornado
• 1 inch hail or larger
• Winds over 55 mph
• When you see a funnel cloud with rotation
• Severe Flooding - bridges under water, impassible roads
“Please do not call 9-1-1 to ask why the tornado sirens are sounding, to ask where the nearest shelter is, to report that it is raining outside, that winds are starting to pick up, or to ask if we are in an all-clear. Barton County does not issue all-clears. By calling 9-1-1 to ask these non-emergency questions, you are tying up a dispatcher that may be needed in a true emergency.
“If you do not have an emergency, but need a law enforcement officer, please call the administrative number at 620-793-1920.”