By NATHAN GREGORY
The National Weather Service has declared March 12-16 Severe Weather Awareness Week, and as tornado season begins, local emergency service officials are urging residents to be prepared for the event of a life-threatening storm.
Oktibbeha County Emergency Management Association Director Jim Britt said one of the most important things citizens can do to keep others alert is to report any signs of severe weather to organization.
“One of the biggest things we can ask for help from the people is if they have any severe weather to report, if they have trees down or strong wind gusts or hail or if they sight a funnel cloud or a tornado is to call in here and let us know about it so we can send that information back to the National Weather Service,” he said.
“It’s pretty much accepted now that we have two peak tornado seasons — one in the spring and one in the fall. It doesn’t mean tornadoes can’t occur during every month of the year, but that’s when the activity peaks out.”
Britt said OCEMA takes many steps in advance of a severe weather event to make sure local law enforcement and emergency crews are prepared for potential life-threatening situations.
Starkville Fire Department Marshal Mark McCurdy said similar precautions are taken on his end, and SFD communicates constantly with OCEMA during deteriorating weather to have the latest information available.
“When we get threatening weather reports, we spend all day preparing for the weather to come in, so we’re doing things like making sure all the trucks are completely fueled. We pull out all of our equipment such as chain saws (and) anything that can be used for cutting,” McCurdy said. “One of our primary responsibilities is if something comes through we have to get the roads open so ambulances, fire trucks and emergency services can get through.”
Britt said there are many precautions residents should take in anticipation of severe weather.
“One thing I always try get across to people ... is to always have a disaster preparedness kit ready. If it’s going to be an extended period and you have prescription medications, certainly you want to have a supply of those,” he said. “These severe thunderstorms that come through can and often do produce tornadoes on very short notice. (NWS) does a great job of trying to forecast the weather and predict where these tornadoes will actually occur, but we need to be prepared and have a plan of action so when one does happen to form and spin up in our vicinity we know where the safest place to go is.”
McCurdy said emergency kits need items such as a three-day water supply, non-perishable food items and a first-aid kit.
“You want to have a weather radio with a battery backup. Other basic items we put in ours are batteries, flashlights and candles,” he said. “When it gets really nasty you want to take blankets, towels and things you can cushion yourself with, so if something does happen, you’ve got something to put over your head, even if it’s something as simple as a pillow. If it actually hits your home, these little things could go a long way.”
Britt said there are alternative places to seek shelter for those without basements or storm shelters.
“Look around at the house and see where a safe place to go is. Usually that’s going to be an interior room without windows that has substantial construction around it. Normally it’s a small room with load-bearing walls around it to support any of the structure that might fall,” he said. “Wherever you think might be the best place to seek shelter ... look around and have a plan of action so if it does approach on a moment’s notice, you know where to go.”
McCurdy said those who reside in manufactured homes or older houses should find a temporary place of safety when anticipating a storm.
“Don’t ever try to ride out a tornado in a manufactured home,” he said. “If you live in a mobile home it’s best ... that you (contact) a friend or neighbor you can stay with for the day.”
Britt said people who are on the go can get the latest information on severe weather by signing up for OCEMA FM alerts.
“(People can register) just by calling here or going to the Alert FM Oktibbeha County website and sign up if they want to receive emergency alerts on their cell phones as a text message,” he said.
Britt said with the unusually high number of severe weather events in the past few years, he is pleased with how OCEMA has been able to keep the people it serves as informed and up to date as possible.
“Our response now is better than it’s ever been. Not everyone will heed the warning to be safe, but we’ve got more on board with us now than we’ve ever had. We’ve got a great team of folks out there in the field to get this information in. I think we’ve got more on board with our FM alerts now than ever. More people have (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radios,” he said. “I think we’ve made some great advancements over the past few years. Even though we’re better prepared than we’ve ever been here, there will still be those (who) will not pay attention to it. I hope they will heed that warning and practice what we’re preaching about the disaster supply kit, and have a way to receive these alerts and warnings.”