County official warns sirens not enough
Chuck Magaha is pushing what he says is the perfect Father's Day gift: a weather-alert radio.
As was illustrated in Hoisington last Friday night, when electrical power goes out, outdoor warning sirens in many communities do not work.
All 36 outdoor warning sirens in Leavenworth County are powered by electricity.
"What people have to realize is that you have your severe thunderstorm first," said Magaha, director of Leavenworth County Emergency Management.
"When a severe thunderstorm comes around, you have lightning and winds, and you have a heightened chance to lose power. All 36 of ours require electricity to move. They're not on generators, and there isn't a backup battery supply."
Magaha recommends residents use weather-alert radios to augment outdoor warning sirens, which are designed to warn people who are outside. The radios range in cost from $20 for a very basic model to $45 to $80 for programmable models, Magaha said.
"It's pretty cheap," he said. "To me, a weather-alert radio is cheap life insurance. They're battery-operated, as well as 110. You can take them to the basement with you, and you can take them on vacation with you."
Magaha said it would cost about $18,000 to disassemble each warning siren and install a battery backup. That would total about $650,000.
And even batteries have a tendency to wear down sometimes without emergency personnel realizing it.
Leavenworth County's siren system undergoes a monthly maintenance.
"We try to keep them as top-notch as possible," Magaha said. "That's probably why they've lasted as long as they have. But when mother natures pulls the plug, they don't work."
Since Sunday, Magaha's paid special attention to the city of Hoisington, where a tornado mowed down 40 percent of the community and one man died.
State emergency workers have placed Magaha on standby, in case his expertise is needed in the west-central Kansas town.
"I'm the Kansas expert on debris removal," he said. "I don't know if that's a good thing or bad."
It's possible Magaha would be called to Hoisington to help emergency workers in Barton County handle cleanup efforts.
The job will be massive: 85 homes were destroyed, while another 220 received major damage and 220 received minor damage. Nine businesses were destroyed, and six received major damage. A total of 28 people were injured.
"They've got their hands full," Magaha said.
There are six levels of tornado assessment on the Fujita scale. F0 storms have winds less than 74 mph. F1 winds are 75-110, F2 111-150, F3 150-204, F4 204-260, F5 261-318 mph. The tornado that hit Hoisington was classified as an F4, while the tornado that hit Tonganoxie last May was rated as an F1.