(RILEY COUNTY, KS – September 19, 2022) The outdoor warning sirens were sounded in the southern portion of Riley County this Saturday in response to a severe thunderstorm warning. The National Weather Service (NWS) warning included damaging straight winds of 70+ MPH expected to impact Ogden and the southern portion of Manhattan in Riley County. Neighboring counties in the path of this storm reported significant tree damage, damage to highway signs, and hail. Typically, sirens are sounded when an imminent threat is expected, including hail larger than golf ball size, wind speeds greater than 75 MPH, a wall cloud, or rotation spotted in person or on radar that indicates a tornado.
“With the information reported to us by the National Weather Service and nearby jurisdictions, there was an imminent threat to people outdoors,” said Russel Stukey, Emergency Management Director/Fire Chief. “It was a game day and thousands of visitors were in town who may not have had easy access to shelter. The wind speeds were close to the threshold we use for activating sirens, so we wanted to warn anyone outdoors to seek shelter and allow them enough time to find it.”
Some confusion resulted for the public, who are more familiar with sirens for tornado warnings.
“While they’re commonly known as tornado sirens, the outdoor warning system is used to notify people of an imminent threat to safety and can indicate a variety of different situations. Sirens provide warning in the event of severe weather including straight winds and flash flooding, which are the most common threats in our area,” said Stukey.
Additional confusion occurred for those who heard the sirens but did not receive any other notification. NWS has the ability to target emergency warnings to the specific areas they believe are under threat. However, the siren activation is more widespread, and the warning areas did not match up. In the future, Riley County Emergency Management (RCEM) plans to send additional Everbridge text, phone, and email notifications to everyone in the range of the sirens to communicate the details of the warning.
“We apologize for the confusion. While we certainly don’t want anyone to experience ‘siren fatigue’ or get to the point they ignore messages, this was a special situation, and we recognized an increased need to warn people outdoors. In the future, we’ll follow up with more information to make sure everyone is aware of the details of the threat,” said Stukey.
This month, public education will include awareness of the notification system, encouragement to sign up for Everbridge warnings, safety plans, and emergency kits. In addition, RCEM will share specific details about siren activation. During a tornado warning, the outdoor warning system is activated for three minutes, then paused to prevent overheating. After a brief rest period of three to five minutes, they are activated for another three-minute period. This process continues until the tornado warning expires.
Riley County Emergency Management is the designated disaster agency for the county with the responsibility for coordinating the mitigation of, preparedness for, response to, and recovery from disasters. Learn more about the department on the Riley County website, follow RileyCountyEmergencyManagement on Facebook and find us on Twitter at @RileyCountyEMFD.