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Be prepared for severe weather

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By Calen McKinney

As winter fades into spring, the possibility of severe weather increases. But should severe weather happen, local officials say the community is ready.

Last week was Severe Weather Preparedness Week, and local schools and businesses participated in statewide drills to ensure their plans are in place.

According to a Kentucky Weather Preparedness Committee news release, the impact of severe weather can include serious injury and death.

Last year, the release states, there were more than 450 weather-related fatalities and nearly 2,600 injuries nationwide.

"Severe weather knows no boundaries and affects every individual in every region. Because of this, we are calling on you to ‘Be a Force of Nature’ and lead others to preparedness," the release states.

Campbellsville and Taylor County schools participate in many severe weather drills throughout the school year.

Taylor County Superintendent Roger Cook said the district's drills and procedures are reviewed with students each year. Severe weather drills are done each spring and fall, he said, and on days when inclement weather is predicted.

Jeff Richardson, director of pupil personnel and food services at Campbellsville Schools, said the district completes fire, tornado, lockdown and earthquake drills each year, along with building and playground safety inspections.

Ronnie Dooley, Taylor County Emergency Management public information coordinator, says Taylor County most often sees severe weather in the form of straight-line winds and hail. And in the last few years, he said, there has been more lightning than usual.

The month of March typically brings severe weather, Dooley said, because of the transition between the winter and spring seasons, which bring hot and cold air together. But even though Dooley says severe weather is common this time of year, that doesn't mean it can't happen at other times.

"Severe weather can occur anytime of the year. We've even had tornados in January," he said.

Dooley said emergency management officials encourage businesses and schools to participate in drills to see if their severe weather plans need revising.

He said he also recommends that every family have a severe weather plan.

"What would you do?" he said. "Where would you go? It's important that everyone in your household know what to do in a warning, know where to go."

Dooley recommends that families practice moving to the lowest part of their home. A basement is best, he said, but those whose homes don't have basements should go to the area that has the most confined space.

"Where several walls come together," he said.

A key part of a family's severe weather plan is having a NOAA weather radio, which Dooley said broadcasts alerts the second they are issued from the National Weather Service, the same time emergency personnel receive them.

"I encourage every person to get a NOAA weather radio," he said.

Dooley said he also recommends residents sign up to receive CodeRED alerts. The city has contracted with the service to provide emergency alerts to residents who sign up for the service.

CodeRED is free, Dooley said, and will send a phone call alerting a person that their home is in the path of a severe storm.

Messages sent from a previous alert system had to be recorded, Dooley said, but CodeRED generates the alerts automatically, making them available to residents much quicker. And CodeRED can be used to send alerts about emergencies other than weather-related ones to residents.

"It has worked real good," Dooley said.

He said it's important to remember, however, that a person will receive alerts for their home area, not for wherever they are at the moment.

To sign up for CodeRED, visit www.taylorcounty.us or www.campbellsville.us.

Taylor County has been declared a "storm ready community," Dooley said, which means many officials have put time into ensuring measures are in place to respond to and alert the public about any impending weather situation.

And city and county officials are working to revamp their severe weather response measures.

Magistrates approved updates to the county's Emergency Operations Plan in December. Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers said then that the procedures spell out exactly how emergency personnel will respond in a severe weather or other emergency situation.

"It's very thorough," Rogers said in December. "Just in case there was an emergency, if there was a disaster. We've got a plan that we can go by."

According to the emergency plan, it is designed to ensure a "coordinated and effective emergency response by the emergency responses discipline in Taylor County."

The function of the plan, it states, is to "lessen the impact of an emergency through the planning, preparation, response and recovery to the situation."

The plan provides detailed documents of about 15 emergency support functions, such as directions for transportation, communication, fire protection, housing, resource management, health and medical services, search and rescue, oil and hazardous materials spills, agriculture, energy, public safety and security, recovery and public information.

Campbellsville Mayor Tony Young said last week that a city safety committee was formed last year to study awareness and preparedness, should an emergency happen in Campbellsville. He said personnel are undergoing a series of classes to ensure emergency procedures are effective.

"The goal is to just be prepared," he said.

Dooley said technology has improved so much that some severe weather incidents can be predicted days ahead of when they will strike. And that means residents have more time to prepare.

To prepare for the severe weather season, Dooley suggests residents keep a stock of blankets and pillows at the ready, along with a first aid kit and bottled water.

Dooley said blankets and pillows can be used to shield a person from a severe weather situation.

"It cushions you a little bit more," he said.

For those who live in mobile homes, Dooley recommends leaving them as soon as severe weather watches start.

"Don't wait until it's at your front door," he said. "Get out and go to a place of safety."

For more information about severe weather, visit www.ready.gov/severe-weather.