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Tornado Safety and Awareness

Understanding how to receive severe weather alerts and the appropriate steps to take when those alerts are received is an important part of being prepared. Emergency Management recommends using more than 1 method to receive severe weather alerts. Below are several ways to receive weather alerts.

Outdoor Warning Sirens are one of the many methods to warn of impending weather. Sirens are intended to provide warning to those in recreational areas or who are outside. Broadcast media and All Hazard Radios warn people who are indoors.
There are 42 sirens in Douglas County. Sirens are located in the most heavily populated and recreational areas. The outdoor warning sirens for any or all of the cities in Douglas County are activated when the National Weather Service issues a “Tornado warning” or when a local determination is made that a tornado threat to the area exists. The sirens sound for 3 minutes at a time during the entire duration of the warning, so expect breaks in the noise. There is NOT an All Clear siren sound. If you hear the sirens...Take Cover!

Testing of the Outdoor Warning Siren System:

The outdoor warning sirens will be tested on a regular basis.  The test will occur at 12 Noon on the first Monday during the months August through February, and on the first and third Monday during the months March through July.

Douglas County offers a free call notification system in which you can get weather alerts on your phone via voice, text, and e-mail. Sign up today.

NOAA Weather radios are a cost effective and reliable method to receive warning of impending weather. These can be combined with monitoring of local radio and TV outlets to keep you informed of changing weather conditions.

Weather Radio Facts and Features:

  • All Hazard Radios have battery back-up.
  • Equipped with a special alarm tone that will sound an alert and give immediate information about a weather, natural or man-made emergency, or a life– threatening (or community–  specific AMBER alert) situation.
  • SAME (Specific Area Message Encoder) pinpoints alerts for your area, reducing false alarms.
  • The hearing and visually impaired also can get these warnings by connecting weather radios with alarm tones, strobe lights, pagers, bed-shaker’s, etc.

Our office recommends identifying local media outlets (radio stations and TV) to which you can turn during severe weather events. Local media provides the latest information on what the storms are producing and where the threat is. They also give the "all clear" when storms have moved out of the area.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are free alerts sent directly to your cell phone. The most common weather alerts you'll receive for this area are Tornado Warnings and Flash Flood Warnings. Alerts are received when the cell phone tower your cell phone is connected to is included in the warning polygon. You may also receive Presidential Alerts and Amber Alerts. For more information, visit

There are a number of ways you can use social media and cell phone applications to receive severe weather alerts. Just make sure these include an audible alert which activates even if you are not looking at your phone. These sources can also provide additional information about the storms. When using social media to get severe weather information, go to trusted sources (emergency management, NWS, local media, etc.).

When the outdoor warning sirens sound or when you receive a Warning, take the following safety precautions:

  • In a home or building, move to a pre-designated shelter, such as a basement.
  • If a basement is not available, move to an interior room or hallway on the lowest floor and get under a sturdy piece of furniture.
  • Stay away from windows.
  • If your are driving a vehicle, do not try to outrun a tornado. Abandon the vehicle, and move into a pre-designated shelter or the lowest level of a building. If a suitable structure is not available, lie flat in a ditch or depression, cover your head and neck with your arms, and be aware of flash flooding.
  • Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes and should be abandoned. Develop your severe weather plan before severe weather strikes.


A few updates and considerations as you make plans during this COVID-19 response and recovery.

The following buildings will be open, only during the specified times, when a Tornado Warning is issued:

  • Sports Pavilion Lawrence (100 Rock Chalk Lane, Lawrence): 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Community Building (115 W. Eleventh St., Lawrence) 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday
  • Douglas County Fairgrounds Building 21 (2120 Harper St., Lawrence): 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday to Friday

If in the past you have taken shelter during severe weather in a location not listed above, call ahead before a severe weather event to determine if it is still open and the hours of operation. Do not assume that location will be open because many are closed or are not allowing entry. This could be very dangerous. If you need shelter outside of the times listed above, contact a location that is open 24 hours.

If you take shelter in a public location, please take these precautions:

  • Wear a mask (cloth masks are OK)
  • Practice social-distancing techniques (staying 6 feet away from others) as much as the situation allows
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer
  • Do not bring pets
  • As soon as possible upon returning home from the shelter, wash your clothes and shoes to limit potential sources of COVID-19.

Special Sheltering Considerations:

  • If under quarantine (exposed but not showing symptoms): Go to your designated shelter. Follow social-distancing practices as much as possible and wear a mask.
  • If self-isolating with family (symptomatic): It is recommended to have a separate location for the isolated person to take shelter. This space should be cleaned after use. If no such space is available, follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask.


While in a shelter, all individuals are encouraged to:

  • Wear a mask
  • Use social-distancing techniques (staying 6 feet from others) as the situation allows
  • Wash your hands / use hand sanitizer
  • Clean the space after use