Purchase photos

Emergency manager defends siren use

6/15/2012

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

When a flurry of calls to the Law Enforcement Center reported funnels, rotation and even debris clouds, Emergency Management Director Bill Ring decided to fall on the side of safety.

"My feeling is I would rather set them off to warn people rather than wish I had," Ring said of his decision to sound the sirens Thursday evening. "I'll side on safety 150 percent of the time."

There also were reports of tornadoes and funnel clouds in Ness County, including one called in by a trained spotter who said it was a "large, cone shaped rotating funnel cloud." It soon became rain-wrapped, obscuring the spotter's view.

Numerous hail reports were filed in Ness County as well, with winds as high as 60 mph reported in Ellis, Bazine and Ness City.

The calls coming in to the Hays dispatch center, Ring said, detailed sightings of funnel clouds and rotation in the area near Hays High School.

"They saw debris," Ring said of the reports that were called in. "To side on safety, we set them off."

He thinks that was the right decision.

"The problem with radar out here is the National Weather Service can't see anything under 7,000 feet," he said of the inability for radar to see what's happening relatively close to the ground.

The reports near the high school also coincided with the report of an explosion on the west side of town, a report that ultimately involved a set of bleachers blowing over at the sports complex.

The calls, he said, were numerous enough to keep five dispatchers busy.

He's hopeful the decision to sound the sirens doesn't add to complacency on the part of residents who hear them and wonder what they're about.

"That's the perfect preparedness question we ask all the time," he said. "But if the weather service doesn't see it, they're not going to do it."

Besides, he said, straight-line winds can wreak havoc.

He said storms a year ago in Ellis, widely reported as tornadoes, ultimately were ruled to be straight-line winds.

And with a forecast for wind up to 80 mph, there's the threat of damage.

"Eighty mph winds can do as much damage as a tornado," he said. "Safety is what I'm going to side on. I hope people don't become complacent."

Plus, Ring said, in the four years he's been here, it's the first time sirens have been sounded without a warning in place.

"It's not a normal occurrence," he said.