After siren confusion, Riley Co. creates plan to keep residents updated

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FILE(Nicki Clark/KFVS)
Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 2:47 PM CDT
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RILEY CO., Kan. (WIBW) - Due to confusion following warning sirens activated in Riley Co. during a weekend storm, Emergency Management staff have created a plan to keep residents updated.

Riley County says on Saturday, Sept. 17, staff members made the decision to sound the outdoor warning system in the southern part of the county in response to a severe thunderstorm warning.

The National Weather Service issued the warning which included damaging straight winds of 70+ mph that were expected to impact Ogden and the southern part of Manhattan. Neighboring counties in the path of the storm also reported significant tree damage, damage to highway signs and hail.

Typically, the county noted that sirens are sounded when an imminent threat is expected - including hail larger than golf ball size, wind speeds of more than 75 mpg, a wall cloud, or rotation spotted in person or on a radar which 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.”

However, due to the activation of the warning, the county said some confusion resulted for the public who have come to associate the warnings with tornados.

“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.

The county indicated that additional confusion surrounded those who heard the sirens but did not receive any other notifications. It said the NWS has the ability to target emergency warnings to specific areas they think are under threat. However, the siren activation is more widespread and warning areas did not quite match up.

In the future, the county said Emergency Management staff plan to send additional Everbridge text, phone, and email notifications to those 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.

In September, the county noted that public education will include awareness of the notification system, encouragement to sign up for Everbridge warnings as well as advice about safety plans and emergency kits.

In addition, RCEM staff said they will share specific details about siren activation. During a tornado warning, they said the outdoor warning system is activated for 3 minutes, then paused to prevent overheating. After a brief rest period of 3- to 5-minutes, they are reactivated for another 3-minute period. This process continues until the warning expires.

For more information about emergency situations in Riley Co., click HERE.