Are we “storm ready”?
June 2nd, 2011
Omaha, NE – As it turns out, Douglas County is not storm ready, at least in terms of the National Weather Service’s official “StormReady” designation. In fact, in Nebraska, only 17 counties out of the state’s 93 are listed as “StormReady.” The majority are in the western Panhandle, with a few more in the east, including Lincoln-based Lancaster County.
“It’s really up to the emergency managers and the officials to do the process,” said Brian Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Valley/Omaha. “To go through the process, the paperwork, to become storm ready.”
Smith said a “StormReady” designation shows a community has “gone the extra mile” to be prepared.
“I’m sure there are some counties that meet the criteria, but they have not put in the application to go through the process to become storm ready,” he said.
The program requires applicants to show they have adequate communications systems in place – to gather information in and get information out to their communities.
“It’s communication readiness, if you will, and it involves the community at large,” said Paul Johnson, Douglas County’s Emergency Management Agency Director. Johnson said in Omaha, people are able to get storm information from news media stations, where they can also sign up for storm notifications.
“Well, there’s public notification programs out there that do cost money. And those programs are implemented in some communities. We have a more of a voluntary approach here, but some communities do have the public outreach and notification systems in place.”
Asked why Douglas County was not yet a “StormReady” community, Johnson said in a later interview that the county had applied for the designation in 2000, but was told more weather radios would need to be installed in public buildings first. Johnson said those radios have now been installed, and the county will apply again “soon.” But, he said, it will only formalize what the county is already doing.
At the National Weather Service, Smith confirmed Douglas County had applied and been told to install more weather radios. That was the main roadblock, he said. And it didn’t have to do with the county’s emergency response plan, which he said is in place. But Smith said the “StormReady” designation is something communities should work towards.
“I think it’s something that counties and communities should strive for, especially now that we’ve had some tragedies take place in Joplin, and also in Alabama and Mississippi,” he said. “Some communities are probably looking at their plans and so forth, are we prepared for an event like this?”
But as the massive tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri on May 22nd, as captured here on a shaky YouTube video, being “StormReady” couldn’t save the town, or the more than 120 people who lost their lives.
Joplin was one of 40 communities in Missouri considered “StormReady” by the National Weather Service. As Lancaster County’s Emergency Management Director told the Associated Press, being “StormReady,” by anyone’s definition, won’t prepare you for the “big one.”