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Morning Sun
  • GUEST COLUMN: Storm sirens should be a priority

  • I am not from Kansas. Anyone who has read my columns in this newspaper already knows that, so it may come as no surprise that my exposure to hearing tornado sirens is very limited.

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  • I am not from Kansas. Anyone who has read my columns in this newspaper already knows that, so it may come as no surprise that my exposure to hearing tornado sirens is very limited.
    My entire experience with sirens dates back to the 1950s, when we were taught as schoolchildren to take cover in the nearest Civil Defense Fallout shelter (in the event of a nuclear attack), and failing that, to take shelter under our desks and to keep our knees close to our chest. Fortunately, other than for a few days in October of 1962 (Cuban Missile crisis), we didn't take these sirens very seriously.
    The running joke about the take shelter routine for school kids was, in the event of a nuclear attack, bend over, crouch down, and then kiss your derrière goodbye!
    I am used to snow. I am not used to tornadoes. They don't sound the sirens when it snows. Maybe they should, but they would be difficult to hear sometimes above the howling winds of a Northeastern blizzard.
    But there is a difference between the impending peril of a snowstorm, and the havoc that can be wreaked by a tornado. In snow storms, roofs only collapse after four or five feet of snow build up on them over several days. People actually go out and shovel their roofs to avoid this kind of calamity. There is no such refuge from a tornado, whose devastation can be horrific and hellacious, and in some cases, the only way to avoid surefire damnation is to take shelter immediately when the warning sirens go off.  So, on a scale of one to 10, it would seem to me that making sure that these sirens are in working order should be a ten or above. 
    Surprisingly, that does not appear to be the case here in Pittsburg, Kan.
    In discussing the recent 'non-tornado' mini tornadic-like storm of Feb. 28, the City Commission was informed that the sirens were sounded according to protocol, but that by the time they were sounded, the storm had already hit. I am still a little confused about who did or did not do what when that night at the Pittsburg Police station, but I do know some things for sure. A tree landed on our garage roof, the wind sounded like a train going by, and then after some lightning, thunder and pop flashes, the power went out, and shortly after that, the sirens came on. It was all over in about 45 seconds, and our clocks stopped at 10:51 p.m. A 20-foot long piece of an aluminum carport also landed in our front yard from an apartment complex a block and a half away.
    That got my attention!
    So did the account in the newspaper about the fact that several of Pittsburg's older sirens have no battery backup, and although they are budgeted for replacement next year, outside of a comment by then-Mayor Marty Beezley that it would be nice to move that up if we could somehow, few others (according to the newspaper account of the meeting) seemed to be overly concerned that we are only currently partially protected if the lights go out. Good thing tornadoes are not often preceded by thunderstorms that knock out power, or we could really be in trouble!
    Page 2 of 2 - Who would have thought, in this day and age, that the sirens had no back up?
    I can see the City Commission deferring a decision on spending millions on building community storm shelters,  or on fixing the traffic flow problem of too many red lights on Broadway, but deferring a decision on immediately replacing outdated sirens? Unacceptable! How much do sirens cost, anyway, $15,000-$30,000 apiece? Compare that to the cost of lives lost that could have been saved with adequate warning. It seems a small price to pay.
    There should be no waiting on the siren replacements. We still have part of April and all of May to get through, and I, for one, would rest a lot easier at night knowing that if the storm hits and the power goes out, there still might be time to take shelter from the impending tornado, God forbid one should come our way.
    I think a greater sense of urgency should be evident among the city commissioners. Sometimes emergencies just demand emergency action. I know that you are more likely to win the lottery than you are to meet your maker as the result of a tornado, but to those of us transplanted easterners with Twisterphobia, they can't move fast enough to solve this problem.  Time to sound the sirens of political urgency. Better safe than sorry.
    John Sullivan Jr.

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