McPherson is part of a 19-county region that is updating its mitigation plan in order to secure funds for improvements that could save lives in times of disaster.

McPherson is part of a 19-county region that is updating its mitigation plan in order to secure funds for improvements that could save lives in times of disaster.

Among the improvements the area would like to address with about $650,000 federal funds earmarked for this region are tornado shelters for schools, generators for tornado sirens and backup generators for water wells.

Storm shelters

The recent tornadoes that hit the Moore, Okla., region, and killed children sheltering in schools there, has raised awareness for the need for storm shelters in schools, Jim Leftwich, south central emergency management coordinator, said.

Although FEMA considers tornadoes and high-wind storms on the top of its list of dangers for this area, many schools in the area do not have FEMA approved storm shelters, he said.

Cost is a significant barrier to getting these shelters in place. As a part of the Sedgwick County school district’s last bond issue, it partnered with emergency management to apply for federal emergency

mitigation grant funds to build storm shelters into new elementary schools.

Leftwich said he hoped this partnership could be extended to other schools districts in the region.

Tornado sirens

When a funnel cloud dropped out of the sky on April 21, 2001, near the city of Hoisington, an emergency responder pushed the button to activate the city’s sirens ... but nothing happened. The approaching storm had knocked out the city’s power supply, and no power was available to sound the warning. One elderly man died in that F4 tornado.

The city of McPherson has placed its siren system on backup generators, but smaller communities in the county have not.

Dillard Webster, McPherson County emergency management director, said he would like to see those communities use mitigation funds to upgrade their systems.

Water wells

Generators also can play a crucial role in maintaining communities’ water systems in times of disaster.

Many cities in the county draw their water from wells. Webster said he did not know of any well in the county that had a back up generator. If a disaster would cut main power to these water pumps, there would be no way to provide water to communities.

Webster said water for drinking and restrooms are the top 1 and 2 essential services in the case of a disaster.

Emergency response

Members of emergency management and area fire and EMS crews met at the McPherson Fire Department for an open house Monday night.

The event featured the South Central Kansas Haz Mat vehicle.

All 19 counties in the region used their mitigation funds last year to purchase the $480,000 vehicle, which is housed in Sedgwick County.

The vehicle is equipped to respond to large-scale hazardous materials incidents, such as spills due to train derailments.

McPherson Fire Chief Jeff Deal said the location of a refinery, pharmaceutical manufacturing and plastics plants in the area places the community at high risk for a hazardous materials incidents.

“To know we have this excellent resource and support in the state, lets us sleep a little easier,” Deal said of the regional haz mat unit.