Being prepared for severe weather is something that every household in every community should be focusing on. Severe weather is dangerous and often times deadly to those who become victims of its elements. One particular and proven way to reduce the threat of becoming a victim to severe weather is to prepare for it. But even if every residential population within a community is ready for storms, the community itself needs to also be ready for storms. A community has an obligation to its citizens and infrastructure to be Storm Ready. The National Weather Service provides a framework known as Storm Ready for communities willing to participate in severe weather preparedness to help assure that their residents are safer during severe weather. In this article, we will take a look at the requirements and procedures for communities across southern Illinois to become Storm Ready communities.
What is Storm Ready and why should you participate?
StormReady® is a program of the National Weather Service that enable communities, businesses, organizations and other groups to better protect their stakeholders from severe weather and weather-related emergencies through advanced planning, preparedness and educational techniques. The Storm Ready program uses specific requirements based on the population of communities to help cities and towns be better prepared for hazardous weather conditions such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, extreme temperatures, winter storms, flooding events and more. Communities should consider becoming StormReady® as a step in the right direction in protecting their citizens. This program will show local residents that the community cares about their safety and has taken extra steps to ensure preparedness for severe weather has been made.
Becoming StormReady® – First Step: Establishing Communication Objectives
The first step for making your community StormReady® is to establish communication objectives. A community must have an operations center that maintains a 24/7 awareness on approaching hazardous weather for issuing local warnings and warning the public. This task often falls into the duties of local emergency management officials but can also be shared among law enforcement and firefighting agencies within a community, which is especially helpful for rural communities with understaffed police departments and volunteer emergency service agencies. This center should be able to activate anytime there is severe weather threatening the area and it must be able to disseminate warnings to the public through means such as warning sirens, social media and text alerts. If your community has more than 2,500 residents, you must establish an Emergency Operations Center for this requirement.
Becoming StormReady® – Second Step: NWS Alert Source
In order to be Storm Ready, the National Weather Service (NWS) requires that communities have some form of warning source for hazardous weather information. This can be accomplished by simply including NOAA All-Hazard Radios with alert tone capabilities with agencies and personnel who will be responsible for severe weather threats and events within the community. There are numerous other methods of getting warnings which are approved by the NWS but a NOAA All-Hazards radio is one of the simpler ways to meet the requirements of this condition. Based on community populations, more systems may be required to meet this directive. Other systems may include the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN), commercial data services, and automatic relays of severe weather information by state-wide and county dispatchers and even local news and weather sources. The more sources for severe weather alerts will essentially increase the chances of better preparedness for a community so more options should be made for any community no matter the size.
Becoming StormReady® – Step Three: Hydro-Meteorological Monitoring
The requirement of hydro-meteorological monitoring for an official not familiar with meteorology might often seem as an advanced and scientific, and rather expensive option for ensuring that the community is ready for storms. This isn’t the case. This requirement simply asks communities to have one to multiple methods, pending population status, on gathering weather and flooding information. If your community is ever subject to flooding whether it be river and creek flooding, flash flooding and other forms of flooding, then your community should be monitoring flood stages and upcoming rain that will continue to threaten the area. This can be accomplished with access to radar data via-the internet or TV, access and use of weather instruments and locally owned and operated weather radar. All of these methods are affordable in modern times, even for the smallest of communities. Communities under 2,500 residents only need one option, such as access to internet or TV radar, in order to qualify for this requirement.
Becoming StormReady® – Step Four: Warning Dissemination
All communities who are trying to meet the requirements to make their communities ready for storms must be able to issue warning information to their residents. Rural communities with less than 2,500 residents only have to have one way of issuing such warnings. However, multiple ways of issuing warnings will increase the chance of safety and should be considered by all communities, whether large or small. NOAA weather radios, outdoor warning siren systems, sirens on emergency vehicles, TV override services and county-wide emergency alert systems are all examples of how to meet this requirement. In community owned facilities and infrastructure where the public might meet (i.e. parks, town halls, etc.), warning capability should be present using one and/or more of the methods listed above.
Becoming StormReady® – Step Five: Preparing Your Community
An important step and requirement of ensuring that your community is prepared for hazardous weather conditions is by providing education and awareness about hazardous weather conditions. For smaller communities, this requirement is very simple. For larger communities, more requirements may be needed. Communities with schools, hospitals and other critical infrastructure should communicate with occupants about various forms of hazardous weather an environmental events. Weather-related safety campaigns should be conducted by communities as well. An example of this would be donating NOAA All-Hazard Radios to members of the public who attend safety campaigns presented by the local fire, police and/or emergency management departments. Lastly, communities should maintain annual certified Skywarn Storm Spotters who report severe weather conditions for the local area. Communities with over 40,000 residents will be require to host their own Skywarn storm spotter training sessions.
Becoming StormReady® – Step Six: Hazardous Weather Action Planning
The final step of meeting the requirements of a community entering the NWS StormReady® program is to plan for actions regarding the threat of hazardous weather conditions. All communities dealing with hazardous weather should have action plans in place. These plans should be reviewed annually and updated when new information or changes deserve to be made. The plan should include warning point procedures, EOC and weather center activation information, storm spotter activation information, storm spotter roster and training information, criteria and procedures for activating outdoor sirens and other warning methods for the community and annual exercises related to hazardous weather incidents. If a community plans before severe weather strikes, they will be prepared a step further than a community that does not plan at all. Plan now and be prepared for chaos.
I’m ready to apply for the StormReady® Program!
If your community has met all of the requirements listed above, first of all, you should be congratulated for taking a further effort for helping to ensure emergency preparedness for hazardous weather conditions that threaten your community. The next step is to determine the requirements above based on your community’s population to be sure that you have taken all the necessary steps that need to be taken. After that, you can apply for the StormReady® accreditation provided by the National Weather Service. In most areas in southern Illinois, the local NWS Weather Forecast Office is located in Paducah, Kentucky.
Congratulations for taking the extra effort to help prepare your community for hazardous weather conditions. Southern Illinois communities should band together and help create a region of StormReady® communities – we can do it, we’re capable of making it happen. Please share this article with others and encourage them to contact their local community officials to check into whether or not their communities are prepared for hazardous weather conditions. Please share this article on social media and use the hashtag #ShawneePreparedness to help support the Shawnee Preparedness and Response Coalition (SPARC) for sharing this information.