Counties prepared for storms

By Diane Wagner

As tornado warnings and thunderstorms raged across Henry and Clayton counties this week, April Weseman did something she'd never done before.

"I prepared," the McDonough woman said. I threw a bunch of blankets in the bathtub, found candles and a radio and got the dogs out from under the bed."

While Weseman may have left out a few steps, emergency management agency officials say preparing and taking responsibility for your own safety, is key to weathering a disaster.

"If people can take care of themselves, the government can concentrate on keeping the systems running," said Clayton County EMA Deputy Director John Dalton. "The larger the disaster, the longer it could take for First Responders to get to you."

Weseman was more aware of her immediate situation than most people on Thursday. Her friend Wayne Dutton, an air traffic controller at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport, called her often with updates.

"We have live Doppler radar and we can blow up the screen to get a very detailed picture, he said. We usually call our families when storms come through."

For others, a NOAA Weather Radio broadcasting continuous weather information direct from the National Weather Service in Peachtree City fills the gap. Warning sirens are also sounded when residents should take cover.

Henry County EMA Deputy Director Don Ash said the county has 20 sirens in place and the city of Stockbridge has purchased six of its own. The sirens were activated Thursday about every five minutes throughout the tornado warning issued by the weather service.

"They don't provide total coverage, but were appreciative of what we have. At some point we want to enhance that," Ash said. "We were getting plenty of calls from people who were hearing them. Now were going back over the calls to see what we can do to tweak the system."

Dalton said the cities of Morrow, Forest Park, Lake City and Jonesboro have sirens. The county does not, and has no plans to add them.

"Clayton is no longer a rural farming community," Dalton said, "and expensive sirens are of little value in an urban area where houses are soundproofed against airport and traffic noise.

"When you look at the money it costs, an outdoor warning system is not going to wake you at 2 a.m., he said. A weather radio will."

Clayton County is a StormReady community, certified by the National Weather Service last year. Currently, 562 communities in 43 states have earned the designation.

"We were one of the first in the state," Dalton said. "It means we have the appropriate communications and warning systems in place, and the mitigation projects to minimize damage."

Henry County will likely be certified this year, Ash said. Employees have completed the required storm-spotter classes and the county has met all the activation and warning standards, but several phases such as the on-site inspection are still pending.

Ash said the certification is basically a byproduct of achieving the goals county officials have already set.

"I think its more a way of showing the community that were concerned about the well-being of our citizens and were taking every step to prepare," he said.