In an effort to better prepare area residents for severe weather, Livingston County Emergency Management and the Livingston County Commission announced their involvement in the National Weather Service's StormReady program.
Since the program's creation in 1999, more than 2,000 StormReady sites have been established in 49 states, Puerto Rico and Guam. This includes 1,007 counties, 801 communities, 137 universities, 13 Indian nations, 67 commercial sites, 52 military destinations and 29 government sites. In the state of Missouri, there are currently 73 StormReady designations. This includes 21 counties, 46 communities, two commercial sites and four universities.
At the announcement on July 18, Livingston County Presiding Commissioner Eva Danner said the county's involvement as one of the select few in the state participating in the program is commendable.
"There are 1,000 counties in the program nationwide and 6,000 counties total," Danner explained. "We're in the minority. It makes me feel really good."
In order to qualify for StormReady designation, communities with a population of 2,500 to 14,999 must adhere to six guidelines set by the NWS. Guideline 1 deals with communication. Each community must establish a 24-hour warning point and establish an emergency operations center. Guideline 2 states a community with a population this size must establish at least four different was to receive NWS warnings. Guideline 3 states the community must have at least two ways to monitor hydrometerological data. Guideline 4 sets the standard for local warning dissemination. The guideline states the community must have at least two ways to disseminate warnings to the public. Guideline 5 states the community must host at least two annual weather safety talks. The final guideline deals with the administrative aspect of the program. This guideline states the StormReady community must have a formal hazardous weather operations strategy, plan biennial visits by the emergency manager to the NWS and host one annual visit by an NWS official to the community.
According to the NWS, the StormReady program "helps arm communities with the communication and safety skills needed to save lives and property before and during the event." Andy Bailey, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Kansas City, Mo., said these communication and safety skills, coupled with the use of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio, helped save the lives in a StormReady community in Ohio.
"Van Wert, Ohio, actually became StormReady in the late 90s," Bailey explained. "They had an F4 tornado move through Van Wert about a year after they became StormReady and demolished most of their town. As part of their preparedness for becoming StormReady, their emergency manager recommended that businesses should really have a NOAA weather radio. A movie theater got those weather radios installed. That movie theater actually got hit and completely flattened. One theater in particular was filled with kids on Thanksgiving break. Because they had the weather radio, they got everyone out of the theaters and into the bathrooms. The bathrooms did not sustain any damage. Cars were actually thrown up against the seats in that movie theater were all the kids had been sitting. Because they had a weather radio and because of the StormReady program, that theater was able to take care of its patrons."
Page 2 of 2 - Bailey said there may be a large generational gap between those who purchase weather radios and those who don't. He said part of the StormReady program is identifying a variety of ways to warn the public of severe weather. Chillicothe Fire Chief Darrell Wright said one of the most effective methods for warning local residents of storms in the past few years has been social media.
"On our Livingston County Emergency Management Facebook page, anytime we have a storm, we reach anywhere from 600 to 1,200 followers," Wright said. "I couldn't believe it. First time we put out a warning, we reached about 695 within 30 minutes."
Wright said another effective tool for staying up-to-date with the latest storm warnings has been the Textcaster system. Textcaster will send a notification to mobile phones anytime sirens are sounded in the county. To sign up for Textcaster, visit www.livingstoncountymo.com/textcaster. htm.