Warning sirens to be enhanced in Victoria

(I changed this post 18/12/12) to reflect correspondence from the Victorian Fire Commssioner’s office. )


The Victorian Government in Australia has announced a pilot program to establish sirens in some bushfire prone communities this year.

Sirens are a form of warning. As can be seen from previous posts, many believe they are effective externally only; should be part of an integrated warning system; and need a voice activated announcement to provide context.

Many communities feel safer with sirens, other’s tend to believe they prevent people from being pro-active in their hazards behaviour. This leads to complacency.

Overwarning is an issue.

The Victorian system is not integrated.

(Note change here: This sentence from me is not correct: The Fire Commssioner’s office says: “Sirens are to be integrated with osom which means that the warnings go to social media, emergency broadcasters, website and also sets the sirens off.”)

The Victorian Bushfire Commissioner web site says they can be used as part of Victoria’s warning system for all hazards – including flood, fire and storm.

“In the future a siren sounded anywhere in Victoria will have one of two consistent meanings:

  • CFA Brigade siren – a signal sounded for up to 90-seconds will indicate a CFA Brigade has responded to an emergency incident nearby.
  • CFA Brigade sirens and community sirens – a prolonged, 5-minute signal will indicate a significant emergency is underway in the local area, conditions are changing and people must seek further information and take immediate action.

The sound of a siren is a trigger for people to seek more information from other sources, including emergency broadcasters, the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or emergency services websites.

The sirens in Victoria appear to be tone only.

Here is the Victorian Govermnment news release:

Sirens to alert community at pilot locations this summer

Thursday, 22 November 2012 From the Deputy Premier, From the Minister for Police and Emergency Services

Sirens will be used as an additional warning tool across 13 local government areas this summer fire season, as part of a Victorian Coalition Government pilot program . The pilot will see 46 community sirens used to alert 39 towns or communities to any significant emergency or potential danger that could impact on them. Of these sirens, 28 will be located across three council areas to alert communities in the fire-prone Dandenong Ranges.

Deputy Premier and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Peter Ryan said the pilot locations were chosen based on their bushfire risk and access to a working CFA brigade siren or community siren.

“We know Victorian communities want sirens to be used as a warning tool and this pilot will make sure the correct processes are in place, and the community understands their use, before they are rolled out in other appropriate locations across Victoria,” Mr Ryan said.

“The pilot locations are primarily those where CFA brigade stations or infrastructure already have working sirens, however community-owned sirens in Ferny Creek, Steel’s Creek, Blackwood and Greendale will also be activated.

“Sirens are not a stand-alone means of warning the community, they are designed to alert people when a significant emergency is threatening the local area and to seek further information from other channels.

“Residents should then refer to alerts and warnings issued through emergency broadcasters, www.cfa.vic.gov.au, www.ses.vic.gov.au, SKY News television, local ABC radio, the FireReady app for smartphones, and the Victorian Bushfire Information Line or Flood Information Line,” Mr Ryan said. All sirens are being upgraded to connect to existing warning systems so the community has access to multiple, simultaneous alerts about emergency incidents in their area. The sirens will warn of fire, hazardous material incidents, floods and severe storms, in line with the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting policy released by the Coalition Government in May.

The pilot siren locations are Lavers Hill, Wye River, Lorne, Cockatoo, Gembrook, Mt Martha, Noojee, Boolarra, Yinnar, Loch Sport, Kinglake, Kinglake West, Flowerdale, The Basin, Belgrave, Belgrave South, Belgrave Heights, Clematis, Emerald, Olinda, Kallista, The Patch, Kalorama, Mt Evelyn, Menzies Creek, Monbulk, Sassafras, Selby, Upwey, Upper Ferntree Gully, Silvan, Narre Warren East, Macclesfield, Blackwood, Greendale, Euroa, Myrtleford, Ferny Creek and Steels Creek. Some locations will have more than one siren. For more information about the Use of Sirens for Brigade and Community Alerting or the sirens pilot visit www.firecommissioner.vic.gov.au

Warnings workshop by accident

“Linked-in” has a group called International Emergency Managers.

A thread was created with the headline: What does it take to get people to flee a storm. The response from numerous emergency specialists and people with widespread experience, was a fascintaing exercise. In fact it was what you’d get at a workshop if you handpicked the guests.

It starts with the general plea, and ends with very good dot point problem solvers.

Enjoy. Ian


Willard C. Harrison 111

What does it take to get people to flee a storm?

Emergency officials are looking at what more can be done to persuade residents to get out when their lives are in danger.

• Step 1 is to educate the leaders. Mayor Bloomberg told people as late as Saturday that it wouldn’t be that bad, but nobody knows where he got that info from. NYC evacuated the shoreline, but told nursing homes to shelter in place because the water won’t come up that high. Bad moves. 

Bill Pook

 I strongly agree with Rob Dale. This has to be a top down message. At the recent IAEM conference we had a session that dealt with the “rush to normalcy”. Examples such as Bloombergs miscue about the NY Marathon being something the city needed shows how elected leadership can be agenda squed and send out the wrong message. 

Keith Carson, MPA, FPEM, CHS-III 

A top down approach is good, but it’s about time people either listened to the experts, or took some responsibility. The real problem? It’s simple. They have to be survivors of a bad one to take it seriously. By nature we are a reactive society, and not a proactive one. We only lock the doors or install a burglar alarm after we’ve been victimized. Most also have the “it won’t happen to me mentality.” Also, look at last year with Hurricane Irene. Mayor Bloomberg kept shouting that the world was coming to and end and to prepare. Many did, but then were pissed off when it didn’t hit their area because it had shifted. Those are among the people for Sandy that didn’t even think about preparing. It’s interesting to watch these people on TV a day or two after the storm and cry “we have no food or water.” Well why not? Oh yeah, that’s right, because you didn’t prepare. There are some very interesting studies I’ve read about this and about 80% of the people who prepare were survivors of a previous disaster. Who’d a thunk it?

Bowman Olds 

For the many years that I have worked with folks along the Gulf coast, Key West, Barrier Islands, leaving their homes in the face of a hurricane, etc. in some cases was not an option they would entertain. Security of their home and their possessions seemed to be paramount. While I would almost agree with the thought that “They have to be survivors of a bad one to take it seriously” there is something about the way we tend to react whether its one of “it only happens to other people” or “it has never happened to me before.” My family was a prime example. Despite numerous warnings through the years about tsunamis impacting our town of Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, we would rarely evacuate. The one time we failed to do so, our house was wiped out by a tsunami and 61 people were killed. 

Art Kirkland 

Being from New Orleans I have a slightly different take. Before Katrina there were countless “mandatory” evacuations for storms. Just a little over a month before, the City called for an evacuation for Hurricane Cindy. A lot of folks complied, and spent hours and hours on the road for a storm that did no damage. That was the norm, and still is when there is a mandatory evacuation. There is a basic rule in operant conditioning that if you want to stop a behavior, administer an unpleasant stimulus every time the subject performs the behavior. If you consistently tell people to put themselves through an evacuation, and most of the time there turns out to be no need, then you should not be surprised when people don’t comply with your instructions to evacuate. On that note, the answer to the question is to be more judicious in our warnings to evacuate. People will start to comply when compliance results in reward more often than punishment. 

Bill Pook

• It appears obvious that there needs to be a balance here. On one side we need targeted & judicious warnings from leadership based on best science. But prediction models are not always 100% accurate. So on the other side we need an educated and (self) responsible populace. With all the advance information about the destructive potential of Katrina & “Frankenstorm” Sandy, lack of individual protective actions is not justified by perceived former false alarms

Steve McMaster, CFM 

 It is always easier to do nothing. When faced with a threat and given a choice to evacuate or not evacuate, each person has to make a decision. As a volume of research has shown, that decision is often rational (although not necessarily so from a EMA professional’s standpoint). When each person is deciding whether to evacuate, they most likely weigh the costs and benefits. The costs would be lost time, hassle, leaving house/valuables unprotected, and many more, and the benefit would be avoiding injury or death. The key variable in this benefit-cost analysis is that individual’s understanding of their risk, which is most likely formed from experiences with previous events – as many of you have pointed out above. An interesting research study would be to interview people who did evacuate from Sandy’s devastated area to see why they did evacuate. This information would help with future risk education programs.

Steve McMaster, CFM 

One other brief comment – I’m convinced that there will always be a certain percentage of people who will never evacuate, no matter what. That’s where this article was interesting – with forced evacuations, fines, or jail time, that brings in the political element of elected officials not wanting to overstep boundaries or adding salt to the wound of those already impacted by the event.

Jan Glarum 

Perhaps government declared “mandatory” evacuations should come with the same set of caveats that go declaring someone under quarantine. maybe then we might do a better job of comprehensively preparing for such an event; not use it as a default or no-harm strategy and then play the “we told them to leave” card every time the same results occur.

Rob Dale 

I think quarantines are too different though to directly apply… Force can be used to keep you in/out of a location. Force cannot be used to pull someone from their home in an evacuation.

Jan Glarum • Could you define your use of the term “force’ Rob?

Art Kirkland 

Bill, I have to disagree with your statement about advance warning. The problem is that there is always advance warning…even when there is no threat. Here in Louisiana we heard that Isaac “has the potential to be much worse that Katrina”. It is a staple of our sensation-seeking while risk-averse culture. The problem with all of the advance warning is that it is biased toward a false-positive result. As long as that is the case, we will continue to have problems getting people to evacuate or take other responsible protective actions. 

Rob Dale 

Under a quarantine (at least in my state) “A local health department or the department may provide for the involuntary detention and treatment of individuals with hazardous communicable disease”. By involuntary that would imply “you may not want to go, but you are since you are a threat to the community.” :) I know many other states have the ability to hold someone with a hazardous disease. I don’t know of any states that have the legal right to enter your home and remove you for your safety though.

Bill Pook 

Art, so in Loiusiana you have advance warnings issued when there is no threat? I know you didn’t mean it like that. A hurricane warning by the NOAA means the threat potential is there. Here along the edge of the prairie we have people who think they are safe unless the (tornado) sirens are sounded. Then again we have others who hear the sirens and immediately go outside to look (thus ignoring the warning). Complacency, contempt or ignorance…lives and property are being lost that could be saved. That is why I strive to strike then “balance” I mentioned and move the paradigm.

Rob Dale 

Actually running out to see is not ignoring the warning at all. That’s the confirmation stage, and I’m not sure that can be skipped.

Art Kirkland 

Bill…actually that is exactly what I meant. In the run up to Katrina, there were at least three mandatory evacuations. None of those storms did any appreciable damage. So…you load family and possessions into a vehicle, Spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get out of harm’s way. Spend money you don’t have on a hotel room and food out for three days. Try to come home only to find out that the city/parish won’t allow you to come in yet. And then do it all again.

The problem (at least with hurricanes) is that being in the “probable impact area” in the time frame necessary to evacuate means that there is a 75% chance nothing will happen. I’m not sure how we balance that. We just did a quick study on evacuations and looked backward. If we evacuated every time that our current criteria were met, we would have evacuated 7 times since Katrina. In fact we have evacuated once. Issac was the only non-evacuation among those that caused any significant upheaval. And, sure enough folks are looking saying “you had all this advance warning, why didn’t you evacuate.”

On the other hand, what would people say if we spent a half-million dollars to evacuate and the result was something like Tropical Storm Lee last year (minimal wind, rain, we were actually playing football an hour after landfall). We would look like idiots and be hung out to dry for over reacting. 

Bill Pook 

Rob, Our local publicized policy is that sirens are sounded for “imminent” danger….not to go outside. Take immediate protective actions, Media broadcasts, social media, community alert networks and NOAA alert radios are advance warning/notification. At least in our area.

Bill Pook 

Art, I wish you luck in doing what is best for your community. Don’t feel alone, we have people purposefully building/living in (river) flood zones too. 

Rob Dale 

Bill, I understand what you are saying… I’m on the team that developed national best practices for outdoor warning sirens last year. My point is that ignoring the science behind the way people react to sirens, and then blaming the people for not reacting the way we want, is probably not productive. Mileti & Sorensen have spent a lot of time showing how people react to a warning. http://www.colorado.edu/geography/class_homepages/geog_4173_f11/Sorensen_warning_systems.pdf

People must:

1 Hear the warning

2 Understand the contents of the warning message

3 Believe the warning is credible and accurate

4 Personalize the warning to oneself

5 Confirm that the warning is true and others are taking heed …and then…

6 Respond by taking a protective action

A siren is step 1. Expecting them to jump right to step 6 is simply not the way it works. Finding out how ways to reduce the timeframe to get from step 1 to 6 would be a productive exercise.

The bigger issue with sirens is overuse. Especially from overtesting. Research shows that when you go more often than one time a month, people become immune to real world alerts. I know of some communities in Kansas that test every week, and we have a town to my north that sounds it every day for the lunchtime whistle! 

Bill Pook

Rob~ exactly, there is a science to understand how people react…and yes, we should expect what we expect of people, not what we wish from people. I take a different step-by-step approach:

People must;

1. Be aware of their surroundings. If the skies look ominous do a heads up for possible actions

2. Listen to the media, social networks/public notification. If the forecast is for possible storms, stay tuned and listen for updates

3. Have a NOAA radio at home/work/school

4. Then with my steps 1-3 when you hear the sirens, your steps 2,3,4 & 5 will have already been met

Over Testing is a BIG problem. Across our state there is no consistent policy. You have a town that “blows the noon whistle”? I have one small village (pop 1,243) that blows the sirens twice a day (lunch & supper) I know of some communities that no longer have any sirens at all…just because they are not effective according to how people react.

We had an F-1 last year that hit with absolutely no official NWS warning (just a “watch). (Although storms were forecasted all day in the media and the skies were black at 5 pm in June). IF we had sounded the sirens and people would have stepped outside, they would have been caught exposed. Let’s stay in touch… it’s great to learn other views.  

Matthew Ellis

As emergency mangers we have one major flaw, we rely to much on OUR experience and often ignore the science behind emergency management. Experience is great, it allows us to be better emergency managers but we must also understand the theory behind various disciplines and utilise the studies that have been conducted to improve our knowledge. How many times have we heard about Panic, when studies have shown that this seldom occurs. We must move beyond our narrow experiences and embrace all the tools of the job. If we don’t, then how can we expect to be treated seriously by other disciplines/ professions and people of influence including politicians. We need, just like every other profession be able to justify our claims with more than our experience, we need to be able support them with facts and figures.

Jan Glarum 

Great comment Matthew. 

Bowman Olds 

Based on past observations, the following four stages (author unknown), remain at the forefront of being unprepared:

1. “It won’t happen to me.”

2. “If it does happen, it will happen to someone else.”

3. “If it does happen to me, it won’t be that bad.”

4. “If it is that bad, there is nothing I can do about it anyway.”

Ryan Kelzenberg 

There have been some great reviews and studies about the format of emergency messaging. One of the areas we need to improve on is the content and quality of the message that is being sent. We also have to accept that many citizens will not take action from only one message to do so.

During our annual AMEM conference Dennis S. Mileti, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, University of Colorado, Boulder did a great presentation and I included the links to his slide show below. We have to provide enough information for our residents to act. It took about 3 different messages before they began to take action. The content of the message also needs to be changed to include detailed information on these points:

Who needs to evacuate

What needs to be done (shelter in place, evacuate, etc)

When does this need to be done by

 Where do I need to go

Why do I need to do this

If you have time, take a look at the slide show, and I would recommend Dr. Meliti as a presenter for any EM related conference. http://www.amemminnesota.org/library/2012-amem-conference-presentations

Rob Dale 

I’d also add Drabek to that list – the 2nd edition of his book is coming out in the spring. Well worth reading the first if you haven’t already… http://www.amazon.com/Human-Side-Disaster-Second-Edition/dp/1466506857


Tsunami warnings in Washington State, USA

“We set off 54 sirens today” said a quietly pleased Robert Purdom from the Washington State Emergency Operations Centre in Camp Murray on the day of the great “Shake out” the bi-annual earthquake drill practiced by millions of Californians for the past few years, and now hundreds of thousands of people from a dozen other US states and even Canada, Italy and New Zealand.

The sirens are one of the principle tools designed to alert the community to a tsunami. And the threat is very real. The western states lie on a variety of fault lines which are quite active. In written history of the North America region there have been numerous very damaging earthquakes and accompanying tsunami. But the alert system now is based on an event which occurred at 9pm, January 26, 1700. There are no written records in the US of this earthquake, but there are in Japan.

“We had a Magnitude 9 rupture of the Cascadia fault line at 9pm on January 26,  1700,” says  John Schelling, the Earthquake/Tsunami/Volcano Program Manager. “We know the exact time and date from historical records in Japan. The tsunami washed up in Japan the next day, without warning and flooded fields and washed away homes. They called it the “Orphan Tsunami” as they knew it wasn’t caused by an earthquake in Japan.

 An earthquake of that magnitude almost certainly will cause a tsunami along the American coast . The records from tree rings show the Orphan tsunami submerged great areas of coast, and stopped the trees growing. Washington State is preparing its warning system for another event, with the belief they need people to respond within 30 minutes or less.

Chris Utzinger points to the earthquake resistant piles the Washington EOC is built on. The building will move as though it was on water.

The warning system is based around getting quality advice about the tsunami, and then using a variety of means to alert residents and emergency agencies. Local familiarisation and training is critical to the success of the system. “We were pleased that we had 700,000 people register to participate in our first Great Earthquake Shake Out” says John. But we hope for many more next year.”

 If an earthquake occurs and generates a tsunami the warning system will be activated.

 The US Pacific or Alaskan Tsunami monitoring centres operated by The National Weather Service,  will generate a report, which is immediately public.

The report will be received at the Washington State Emergency Operations Centre, (EOC) which is responsible for alerting all emergency and response agencies and organisations which are likely to be affected. There is one nuclear power plant in the state.


 Simultaneously the EOC will activate the siren system.

“We have about 100 phrases pre-programmed onto a voice chip and  the sirens can be programmed to announce anything that the voice chip has available, but we’ve only ever activated it from the EOC for a tsunami siren test” says Telecommunications Field Engineer Robert Purdom. “Each event consists of voice recording as well as the siren sound. We will generate the alerts  every few minutes for about 40 minutes.

But although the sirens are tested regularly, they are not considered effective without explanation, or context.

“Every time the siren sounds there must be a combination of siren and voice material,” says John Scheling, Earthquake Program Manager (Mitigation and Recovery)
” We know a siren alone wont make people change their behaviour.”

Tsunami warning sign on Santa Monica beach, Cal, USA

  The announcement begins with the heart stopping words: ”This is not a drill.”

AHAB: All Hazards Alert Broadcasting siren, used for tsunami alerts in Washington State, USA

“The sirens are for outdoor use only,” says John Schelling. “They are for people on the beach and in the streets. They won’t be heard indoors, so people have to be aware they might not hear the sirens when a tsunami alert is generated.”

 It’s expected the police will drive through towns and neighbourhoods using loud hailers attached to their vehicles warning people of the tsunami.

 In addition the “Emergency Alert System” will carry the tsunami warnings to emergency broadcasters, including radio, TV, and digital platforms, and US phone carriers will activate their alerts to mobile devices using CMAS – the Commercial Mobile Alert System.

 If the electricity and land lines are damaged by the earthquake, each siren can be activated locally by a county or city emergency agency professional via VHF or UHF radio. 

 But the awareness messages stress that people must not wait for an alert. “The ground shaking, that’s the warning” says John. “Our messages are straightforward and each has a call to action: “If the ground starts shaking, you run. If you see the sea receding, you run.If you hear a siren, you run.”

The population is expected to seek higher ground, with awareness plans in place to try to raise understanding that the public should not  expect to be able to use roads. “An earthquake is likely to damage roads. We expect people will walk or run to higher ground,” says John. The Mayor of Long Beach, which is a marine spit built at water level and with no nearby hills, says “goodness knows which way the warning signs will be pointing after an earthquake.”

Washington State is trying a Japanese idea:  “vertical evacuation.” This can include towers, buildings and berms. Vulnerable communities are encouraged to become involved in considering these developments, drawing up plans and seeking federal funding.

“The community is asked if they would like a “vertical evacuation plan” and where they would like the hill or high ground to be built,” says John. This called “Project Safe Haven” and it is an attempt to get the community thinking what kind of structure might help them survive a tsunami.

 It might be a berm, reinforced dirt structure, a little like a big river levee, that can be built close to population centres. They could be 10 metres high or more, and will cost  $250,000 – to $1 million each.  They are an active feature of Japanese tsunami response.

Engaging the whole community in its design and placement results in widespread understanding of what the berm is for; and solid community buy-in. A berm could wrap around a sporting field and create new and useful lines of visibility or it could create an amphitheatre for public events in a community.

But it’s still just a concept: “No vertical evacuation structures exist yet, so we are hoping to build the first one in the U.S. in coming years. Additionally, funding is not yet available, but we hope to use a combination of federal, state, and local funds to implement the results developed by each community.” It’s ambitious,m but the issue calls for an open mind.

“The siren towers cost about $50,000 each, and the cost is shared between state and local counties.” says John.

 The Federal Emergency Management Agency in the US has tried to evaluate the cost of natural hazards. In addition to the infrastructure costs, it has discovered that each death from natural hazard results in costs of about $ 5 million. A few hundred thousand dollars for some sirens, and a million or so for a berm, pales into insignificance if they save hundreds or thousands of people.






The Pink Firetruck

Fire fighters at Victoria, British Columbia, got into the spirit of Breast cancer awareness month and changed the colour of their main pumper. The truck will remain pink for just a month. Some of the crew wear pink t shirts under their standard issue blue open necked shirts as well.

The hose on the front bumper has been tied to represent the Breast Cancer ribbon!

Joplin tornado – Warnings

 The Joplin tornado neatly encapsulates all the problems inherent with multiple, simultaneous, complex emergencies. The US National Weather Service (NWS) was widely praised for its work. The relationship between the warning providers and the disseminators is crucial.  

 It is fair to say there is much soul searching at the NWS in the US when people die in weather related disasters. It’s the same in Australia, and no doubt everywhere else. Weather forecasters are scientists but they understand their work, at its best, will save lives.

The problems confronting the forecasters at Joplin were the same as those wherever  multiple simultaneous complex weather events occur. (I call these MSC events) For most of us that’s thunderstorms and hail forecasts, but the same problems were experienced by fire fighters during the Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009 and to a lesser extent in the flash flooding of Grantham in Qld in 2011.

In the case of the Joplin tornado the public had to contend with the following bewildering array of events – and many in the disaster community will have an understanding of exactly this type of scenario:

– No big tornado for a generation, even though the town is in :”Tornado alley.”

– Thunderstorm forecasts consistently for two days

– Thunderstorm and hail forecasts all day

– Tornado watches issued a couple of hours before he main event

– Multiple tornadoes

– Two blasts on the town tornado warning sirens. 

These events create massive uncertainty, and warnings, unless very carefully compiled and placed in context and with a sense of priority, will lead to confusion and the public quite naturally will hesitate to act.

Remains of school, 16 months after the tornado Pic Ianm

This is how the NWS reported on warnings from the Joplin tornado – taken from its review. (Items in barckets are mine)

“A series of complex meteorological events and interactions took place during the afternoon hours of May 22 that eventually resulted in the devastating EF-5 tornado. A Tornado Watch  was issued at 1.30 pm for all of southwest Missouri.

A routine Area Forecast Discussion (a  type of weather service “heads up”)  was issued at 2.37 pm as well as  at 3.47 pm. Forecaster focus remained on very large hail as the main severe weather threat, but isolated tornadoes were also deemed a possibility due to the very unstable air mass in place and sufficient low level wind structure. The first thunderstorms of the day developed between 2 pm and 3 pm  over southeast

As severe storms moved east, forecasters became increasingly concerned about their tornado potential and issued the first Tornado Warnings of the day at 4.25 pm and 4.51 pm for counties west of Joplin. At 4.33 pm forecasters briefed the Jasper County (which encompasses Joplin) Emergency Manager on the severe storms to the west.

A tornado Warning was issued at 5.09 pm for western Jasper County, including the northeast part of the city of Joplin but was for a different storm than the one that eventually hit the city.

This alert was followed by a new Tornado Warning  at 5.17 pm CDT for the next storm to the south for southwestern Jasper County and portions of neighboring counties which included all of Joplin. (Another coordination call was made to the Jasper County Emergency Manager at 5.25 pm  to update him on the Tornado Warning and latest information concerning the storm.)

At this point, the severe thunderstorm west of Joplin had become the dominant thunderstorm in the region and was poised to produce a violent tornado. Based on storm surveys and radar imagery, it was estimated that initial tornado touchdown occurred just west of Joplin at 5.34 pm, moved into western portions of Joplin around 5.36 pm. The town had 17 minutes of lead time for touchdown and 19 minutes lead time before the tornado entered Joplin.

The first indication of a confirmed tornado was issued via another Severe Weather Statement at 5.39 pm that stated,

“At 534 pm CDT…trained weather spotters reported a tornado near Galena” and that “This storm is moving into the city of Joplin.” The tornado eventually dissipated around 6.12 pm.

Unfortunately, the tornado developed rapidly on the southwestern outskirts of a densely populated area and had moved through much of the city before the size and violence of the tornado was apparent to warning forecasters. They could not not issue a Severe Weather Statement with a “Tornado Emergency.”

Amongst the general public, the majority of residents had little idea there was a threat of severe weather prior to Sunday, May 22. About half of those interviewed, reported learning of the possibility of severe weather in the hours leading up to the tornado. Just less than half reported their first indication of a severe weather threat was in the moments just prior to the tornado.

 According to the (Joplin Emergency Manager, IM) the first 3-minute siren activation, at 5.11 pm resulted primarily from funnel cloud reports to the west of Joplin in southeastern Kansas (and was not based on NSW information! IM)

Residents heard the initial siren activation and then the warning details were provided by the emergency telephone system (called Reverse 911 – IM), and assumed the activation was for the area to the north. In one example, a man was clearly confused by the string of warning information he received and processed from various sources.

1. Heard first sirens at 511 pm CDT (estimated 30-35 minutes before tornado hit).

2. Went to the TV and heard NWR warning from TV override that indicated tornado near airport drive 7 miles north of his location.

3. Went on porch with family and had a cigar. Looked like a regular thunderstorm.

4. Heard second sirens (estimated 27 minutes later).

5. Thought something wasn‘t right so went inside and turned local TV stations on.

6. Saw on TV several colored counties for tornado warnings, but regular programming was still on and thought the threat was still to the north.

7. Heard his wife yell “basement,” Grabbed the cat and told son to put his shoes on.

8. Tornado hit as they reached the top of the basement stairs, destroying their home.