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Protocols for sounding tornado sirens around Kansas City

Tornado sirens trigger fear when alarm goes off
Posted at 6:22 PM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 19:46:00-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s a sound no one wants to hear — tornado sirens blaring that danger is nearby.

"There's something unique about a siren that's blaring at you at over 100 decimals,” said Trent Pittman, who works for Johnson County Emergency Management. “There's something instinctual about that, that signals that there's danger."

In each county, an emergency management official is in charge of sounding the outdoor warning sirens. But each county has its own rules when it comes to sounding the alarm.

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Johnson County, Kansas

In Johnson County, the emergency management office dictates which zone in the county is impacted by the tornado warning and will only sound the sirens in that section. 

The office will only sound the alarm if there is a tornado warning. 

"We don't want to be in the business of activating sirens for any time there's severe weather in Johnson County because we really want that siren, that sound, to stay relevant for people,” said Pittman.

Photo courtesy Johnson County Emergency Management Division

Leavenworth County, Kansas

In Leavenworth County, the emergency management office can choose a single siren to blare the warning, alerting only those people nearby. 

But, these alarms don’t just go off for tornadoes. These sirens can blare if the office believes lives are in danger. 

"A life-threatening scenario might be a hazardous material, it might be winds of excess 80 mph - just throwing a number out there - but it's a dangerous storm or it might be a tornadic event,” said Chuck Magaha, who is the director of Leavenworth County’s Emergency Management office.

Photo courtesy Leavenworth County Emergency Management 

Kansas City, Missouri

In Kansas City, there are 126 outdoor tornado sirens. These will only go off if there is a tornado warning or if there is a reported funnel on the ground.

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Each county has their trained storm spotter network and amateur radio operators to help be on the lookout for severe weather.

But don’t expect these sirens to ring loud while you are in the comfort of your home. 

"The sirens are meant to be heard outdoors and frequently you can hear them inside and that should be thought of as just a perk," said Pittman. 

Magaha agrees, “We want to make sure that when people hear that outdoor warning siren, they are tuning into their local media.”