South Johnson County Warning Sirens Silent During Recent EF-1 Tornado | KCUR

South Johnson County Warning Sirens Silent During Recent EF-1 Tornado

May 9, 2018

Officials are trying to figure out why some of Johnson County's tornado sirens failed to activate during last weeks severe weather.
Credit FEMA

A handful of Johnson County's 197 sirens designed to warn residents of a tornado didn’t go off in South Johnson County, where an EF-1 tornado touched down the night of May 2.

“There were some sirens that we found out didn’t activate when they were supposed to and we’re running that down right now,” says Trent Pittman, Johnson County's assistant director of Community Preparedness.

The malfunctioning sirens were in the area of 151st to 143rd St., where the National Weather Service reported one of three tornados in the metro

Overland Park Emergency Management Coordinator Kyle Burns says it's "concerning" that sirens in the area did not sound.

"They are very complicated systems," Burns says. "We're doing our due diligence to find out why the sirens in Overland Park did not go off."

Accorded to Burns, people in that area reported hearing sirens other than those closest to their houses. He says the city purposely locates sirens so their ranges will overlap.

"They can malfunction because they are struck by lightening," Burns says. "We've even found ant infestations causing problems for sirens."

Johnson County and Overland Park officials took to Facebook to address questions following last week’s severe weather. They did not address why sirens in some areas were silent.

Dan Robeson, deputy director of Emergency Communications for Johnson County, said cities own and maintain the sirens. The county is primarily responsible for activating them. Johnson County has a total of 197 sirens divided by zones. Robeson said the county decides to initiate a siren based on a number of criteria, including National Weather Service notification or alerts by public safety officials.

Sirens are supposed to sound every 10 minutes for three minutes until the National Weather Service cancels the warning. 

Last week's Overland Park twister was the most severe among those that hit the Kansas City metro that night. An EF-1 is relatively minor, but it packed winds up to 98 miles an hour.  There were no reported injuries but there was significant property damage and a handful of downed telephone polls, Pittman says.

This word of caution: Sirens are meant to be heard outside only. Officials warn everyone to have alternative methods to learn about severe weather.

“The key thing … is to make sure you’re able to be informed about severe weather (with) multiple ways to receive information. A NOAA weather radio is a great investment.” says Pittman. Also, The National Weather Service, the county, as well as most media outlets have weather apps for smart phones.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer. You can reach her via email at lauraz@kcur.org or via twitter @laurazig.