Archive for Thursday, May 10, 2007

Greensburg should change perception of local threat

May 10, 2007

Everyone on earth has to live with a reoccurring natural phenomenon that threatens life and property. Tornadoes are our threat. Most Kansans of any age have experience with them. They've made us run from their path or cower underground for safety. They are as much a part of springtime as flowering red bud trees.

But sometimes, we are reminded just how serious is that constant threat that seems so innocent to adventurers who come to the Midwest to chase the annual spring outbreaks.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August 2005, area emergency management officials said they didn't believe a natural disaster of that magnitude was a threat here -- short of meteorite strike or super volcano eruption that would have an effect on a global scale.

The experience of Greensburg should put an end to that assumption. An F5 tornado a mile to a mile-and-a-half wide ripping through miles of communities and suburbs of Douglas and Johnson County might not completely shut down metropolitan Kansas City to the extent Katrina overwhelmed the Gulf Coast, but it could cause as much chaos as that visited on some hurricane ravaged cities. In De Soto the difference might be moot. The aerial photographs of Greensburg provide proof that such storms can literally wipe a city the size of De Soto/Eudora off the map. And if that storm was on the ground long enough to track through other nearby communities, the demand for emergency response would be much greater than that of a relatively isolated central Kansas county seat and farming community.

Imagine five, 10 or even 50 Greensburgs, with tens of thousands homeless, hospitals -- very possibly damaged -- overwhelmed, power disrupted, transportation links cut and numerous secondary health and safety hazards to be dealt with.

Large, intermediate or small, the keys to surviving tornadoes are awareness and preparation. Television stations have invested in storm-tracking technology that provides all viewers with a sophisticated knowledge of where dangerous storms are. Weather-alert radios are available to warn of truly dangerous nighttime storms. It is then up to individuals and families to plan for those warnings and, as much as possible, deal with the immediate aftermath.

Greensburg is an invitation for regional emergency management planners to put the pencil again to just what an F5 tornado tracking through miles of populated acreage could mean and what kind of response would be required.

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