With severe weather season upon us, the Labette County Local Emergency Planning Committee is constantly monitoring the weather and is set up to receive severe weather alerts.

The committee shared that message during its regular meeting on Thursday.

A severe weather watch is issued when potential exists for the development of severe thunderstorms or tornadoes and residents should pay attention to the weather situations unfolding. A warning indicates severe weather is imminent or it is already occurring.

Labette County Emergency Management Director Charlie Morse said a warning is posted any time damaging winds or large hail are expected.

When feasible, Morse said the Emergency Operations Center in Oswego is opened about an hour before it is anticipated such weather will hit. Officials watch the radars until the threats have passed and they are confident nothing else will happen. Sirens are activated when the county gets a warning from the National Weather Service. Sirens in all communities have been tested and issues addressed.

In some instances of sudden weather events, such as what occurred last July in Oswego, there is no opportunity for notice.

In most instances, the average warning is issued about 15 minutes before the weather situation strikes, compared to only two to three minutes warning a decade or so ago.

As a reminder to the public, Morse said, the LEPC is not responsible for designating or opening storm shelters in communities. Each community has people entrusted with keys to open shelters when there are storms. Communities are in the process of checking with those people to make sure they are still willing to open the shelters, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parsons USD 503 Superintendent Lori Ray said the district anticipates having its shelter plans verified by April 1. For safety and security reasons, the schools are not open to the public during the school day while school is in session, so other shelter must be sought. In the evenings, dependent upon the availability of community volunteers, each school building is usually opened to serve as a shelter. However, only Parsons High School accepts pets, and they must be in a pet carrier. The district will announce after April 1 what school storm shelters will be available.

The Parsons Municipal Building basement is an official public storm shelter day or night. The Fire Station No. 1 basement, at 1819 Washington, also serves as a public storm shelter, however animals are not allowed in either location, except registered service animals.

Residents need to check with their individual communities to see what accommodations are available for storm shelters and what the required rules are regarding COVID-19, such as masking or social distancing.

In other business during Thursday’s meeting, the committee discussed COVID-19 updates. Morse said Gov. Laura Kelly is deciding which orders to reissue and which will expire on March 31. Morse said orders on delaying tax deadlines, requiring COVID-19 mitigation in K-12 schools and allowing driver’s license and  vehicle registration renewal delays are expected to be allowed to expire, while most other orders are expected to be reissued in whole or in part.

Those which are set to remain in effect are:

— Temporarily allowing notaries and witnesses to act via audio-video communication. 

— Temporary relief from certain restrictions concerning shared work programs.

— Amended licensure, certification and registration for people and licensure of adult care homes.

— Temporarily prohibiting certain foreclosures and evictions.

— Establishing a face coverings protocol (the re-issued order will apply to all counties).

— Requiring COVID-19 testing in certain adult care homes. 

— Provisions related to driver’s license and identification cards.

— Temporary relief from certain unemployment insurance requirements.

— Temporary provisions for employer payment of income tax withholding for work performed in another state.

— Temporary relief from certain tuberculin testing requirements.

— Extending time for Kansas rural water districts to hold annual meetings. 

— Temporary authorization for additional vaccinations. 

Ray said superintendents of Kansas schools were meeting with the Kansas Department of Education on Thursday to hear what the state ending mitigation requirements in schools actually means in regard to Senate Bill 40’s impact on schools and any legal matters that come into play. There are only nine weeks of school left. The bill will prescribe powers, duties and functions of the board of education of each school district related to the COVID-19 health emergency.

USD 503 plans to continue its mitigation efforts given the proven ability for the policies to stop the spread of COVID-19 within the student and staff population.

Morse said Riley County recently ended all mitigation efforts, and COVID-19 cases “are through the roof” already as a result.

Ray said the school district has tentatively planned for this year’s prom and graduation. Plans are for an outdoors prom to be held the first week of May in the downtown Parsons area. There will be large tents set up, and a street will be blocked off for the event.

Tentatively, senior graduation will be held at Marvel Park, like it used to be. Ray said they are just starting the process of planning and checking numbers to make sure everything will work properly to best ensure the safety of students and others attending.

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