By Kerry Scott
April 27, 2011, is a day that will live in the memories of residents across the area forever. The devastation left by the tornadoes that blew through this area that day have left a grim reminder of how powerless we are against a storm so destructive.
It also serves as a warning that severe weather can strike at any time, and we should all be prepared. “We can’t keep storms from happening, but we can prepare ourselves —and our families — to deal with them,” says Jackson County EMA Director Mike Ashburn. “The time to prepare is now, before a severe weather event occurs.”
His department has spent a significant amount of time informing and educating citizens — from the youngest to the oldest — about just how to prepare themselves and their families.
“We’ve gone to elementary schools, senior centers, churches and civic organizations teaching about preparedness,” says Ashburn.
Ashburn believes the best way for citizens in Jackson County to stay informed about severe weather is with the CodeRED alert system. It telephones citizens notifying them of a tornado, flash flood or severe thunderstorm warning in their vicinity.
Sometimes, people dismiss automatic alert systems because the alerts are county-wide, and for Jackson County that’s a very large area. Instead, CodeRED uses the polygon system established by the National Weather Service which issues warnings for a specific area instead of the entire county. That is why Ashburn encourages all citizens of Jackson County to sign up for CodeRED. “It’s a great system that is helping save lives,” he says. “When people get a call from CodeRED they know the warning is meant for them and their specific area and they need to take immediate action to protect themselves and their family.”
When there is a tornado spotted, each of the 22 sirens located throughout the county sound a warning — but it isn’t always heard indoors. That’s another important reason to sign up for CodeRED. It’s also a good reason why everyone should have a weather radio.
“We also keep citizens informed via our Facebook page,” says Ashburn. There, people can learn beforehand when there’s a threat of severe weather, they can sign up for CodeRED, and they also hear about things like weather spotter classes put on by the National Weather Service.
In DeKalb County, EMA Director Anthony Clifton says their department takes a multi-pronged approach to informing the public of severe weather events.
Due to the county’s size and shape, DeKalb County EMA recently switched to the polygon alert system for the 26 sirens located throughout the county. “In the past, people in Ider might hear the siren but have blue skies and sunshine while people in Kilpatrick or Collinsville might be facing down a tornado,” he explains. “Now, if you hear the siren in your community, it means the National Weather Service has issued a warning for your specific area.”
The county also recently released a smartphone app. The free app is available by searching “DeKalb County EMA” in the app store for Apple or Android devices. “It will send warnings in the form of a push notification,” says Clifton. “It also has links to our Facebook page and Twitter. It has local weather, school closings, shelter locations, road closings and even has safety tips.”
While these upgrades will make being informed much easier, Clifton says they don’t take the place of preparation. “Every family needs to have an emergency plan. They need to know the plan, and they need to practice that plan,” he says.
Preparation takes very little time, and Clifton recommends visiting FEMA’s website, ready.gov, to get useful information. “The site tells lots of things to consider when creating a plan, as well as how to make a disaster kit, where to store it and how to maintain it.”
Once a family has a plan, everyone should know it and practice to make sure the entire family can implement it. “It’s also a good idea to have a contingency plan,” Clifton says. “Run different scenarios to make sure you’re prepared for anything — what do you do when parents are at work and kids are at school or daycare when disaster strikes? You need to be prepared for those situations, too, because you might not all be together at home.”
Tornado shelters in DeKalb County
- Sylvania near Fire Department
- Crossville near Fire Department
- Geraldine near Town Hall
- Fyffe near Town Hall
- Shiloh near Fire Department
- Powell near Town Hall
- Valley Head near Town Hall
- Rainsville at Plainview School
- Henagar on Greenbriar Rd near hatchery
Tornado shelters in jackson County
- Stevenson Elementary School
- Section High
- Bryant Elementary School
- Stevenson Middle School
- Earnest Pruett Center of Technology
Make a kit
Every family should have an emergency kit of supplies. It is recommended to keep enough food, water and medication to survive without help for 72 hours. Every kit should include:
- Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food and a manual can opener
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
- Prescription medications and glasses
- Infant formula and diapers
- Pet food and extra water for your pet
- Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
- Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
Get more information about what to keep in your kit at ready.gov.