It’s spring, which means it’s time to think about severe weather and tornado season and having a plan in place should the need to take shelter arise.
Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch encourages families to think about tornado season now and have plans where they would take shelter at home, at work, or other places.
The city of Shawnee will continue to offer public storm shelters in the basement of city hall, the basement of Shawnee Fire Station No. 3 on MacArthur Street and at a cellar in Boy Scout Park, he said.
Because both space and parking at those locations is limited, the city is currently working with building owners to utilize basements in their facilities as alternate public shelters. Lynch said the city will announce those locations as soon as the facilities are ready.
“State law provides liability protection for people who offer their shelters for use by the public,” Lynch said. “Therefore, we are strongly encouraging people throughout Pottawatomie County who have shelters to be good neighbors and offer their shelters to others where possible."
In efforts to promote preparedness, emergency officials provide these tips:
Home tornado plan
Pick a place where family members can gather if a tornado is approaching, such as a basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest level of a home. That place should be kept uncluttered and be easily accessible in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to have a flashlight, radio and other gear ready for use in that shelter.
“The time to identify your shelter is before you need it,” he said. “When a warning is issued, you need to seek shelter immediately, not try to determine where your shelter will be or try to drive somewhere to take shelter.”
To be prepared for any scenario, families should practice tornado drills much like they would a fire drill, Lynch said, and those who live in mobile homes should find a neighbor with a storm shelter well before a storm becomes severe. Those living in upstairs apartments also should become acquainted with neighbors downstairs and be prepared to take shelter in the lower unit.
Storm watches, warnings
Lynch said knowing the difference between watches and warnings can help save lives. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather that may produce a tornado. Residents should keep a “watch” on the weather for rapidly changing conditions. A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has actually been sighted or is indicated by radar. Lynch said persons in the path of the storm should take immediate precautions to protect their safety.
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Receiving storm warnings
Lynch recommends having multiple means of receiving severe weather warnings. Local television and radio station alerts, a NOAA all-hazards (weather) radio, e-mail, text, and telephone alerting systems are all good methods of receiving the warning, he said.
The city of Shawnee maintains a network of community warning sirens, but residents shouldn’t rely solely on them.
“Sirens weren’t designed to alert people who are in their homes,” Lynch said. “They’re meant to warn people outside of possible danger.”
“Shawnee’s sirens are sounded during severe weather when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for a tornadic storm that is approaching or in Shawnee, or when trained emergency management spotters sight a funnel cloud, persistently rotating wall cloud, or tornado in or approaching the city limits,” he said. “If the sirens go off during a thunderstorm, it means take your immediate safety precautions.”
To ensure the storm sirens are in good working order, the sirens in Shawnee are audibly tested at Noon on Wednesdays when the sky is clear and weather permits.
As storm season continues, Lynch said the city also would appreciate any owners of buildings with basements who would be willing to open their buildings up as public shelters to contact the emergency management office to let them know.
Lynch also remainds everyone to register their safe room or storm shelter with our office at 878-1650 so that we can make the information available to the fire departments in the county in case search and rescue operations are necessary.