By: Huck Treadwell
The Tornado Recovery Action Council of Alabama on Tuesday presented a 117-page report about the April tornado outbreak and recommendations for future natural disasters to Gov. Robert Bentley.
The report was supposed to be presented to Bentley on Monday, but severe weather and tornadoes late Sunday night and early Monday morning forced TRAC to delay releasing the report.
“The storms that hit central Alabama early Monday morning painfully and vividly remind us again that our state and its citizens must remain vigilant in improving how we prepare for and respond to severe weather,” said TRAC Executive Director Ron Gray. “There were many things we got right – as individuals, as communities and as a state in the wake of the April 2011 storms, but the lives lost and people injured this week reinforce our commitment to learning from the past to save lives in the future.”
After the state was hammered by tornadoes last April, Bentley appointed a 19-member council to study the events that took place after the storms and to make recommendations on how to better prepare and respond to future natural disasters. The first TRAC public meeting was in Rainsville.
The major recommendations by TRAC included storm shelters and safe rooms, fortification standards, power continuity, education and awareness, integrated storm alerts, atmospheric research, emergency management training, radio communications, healthcare, volunteer coordination, housing recovery and economic recovery.
The report used progress in DeKalb County as an example in several categories the report addressed. Storm shelters and safe rooms were high on the list of preparedness priorities. The report said only one storm shelter was maintained in DeKalb County, a 100-person private facility at the United Methodist Church’s Upper Sand Mountain Parish in Sylvania.
The report also stated that, “In reaction to a tornado that hit DeKalb in May 2010, the county commission applied for and received matching grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that covered 75 percent of the cost for six new 100-person storm shelters in Fyffe, Geraldine, Henagar, Powell, Shiloh and Sylvania. Those communities contributed the other 25 percent of costs, raising cash or lining up in-kind services donated by civic-minded local companies, for a total storm shelter investment of about $700,000.”
According to the report, the DeKalb County Commission asked for bids for the at its April 26 meeting – the day before the tornado outbreak.
The report quoted DeKalb County EMA Director Anthony Clifton as saying all six shelters will be ready this year. According to the report, Clifton said applications for additional storm shelters in Ider and Collinsville have been submitted. In the report, Clifton also said more than 600 individuals in DeKalb County had applied for matching grants to help pay for safe rooms in homes and businesses.
DeKalb County was also a source of research for TRAC’s education and severe weather awareness recommendations.
Auburn University geography associate professor Philip Chaney interviewed more than 100 people in Rainsville as part of a study to determine why people don’t always take shelter during severe weather. An early analysis showed that those who lived in mobile homes were not as prepared for a tornado as those who lived in more permanent structures, Chaney said.
“Another issue we are evaluating is whether or not people knew how much time they had before the tornado hit their community … and how that information influenced their decision about what to do for shelter,” Chaney said.
The report also delved into how Franklin, DeKalb and Marshall counties distributed severe weather notifications to Spanish-speaking persons.
In Crossville, the majority of children at the elementary school are Hispanic. If the school will be closed due to bad weather, parents are notified by telephone in English and Spanish. Marlene Corona, a translator at Crossville Elementary School, stated in the report said one problem with the system is many of the parents are from Guatemala and speak a Mayan language and not Spanish.
In the report, Corona said she had heard weather information on La Doble X (WWGC), a Spanish-language AM station in Albertville.
In the report, the Alabama Department of Mental Health recommended “emergency planners should keep in mind the need for communication in multiple forms to warn individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have other disabilities.”
The department also suggested an interpreter pool composed of people fluent in sign language or a foreign language be developed to assist those who need language interpretation in preparing for and recovering from disasters. Such a pool, covering Spanish, Guatemalan languages and sign language, already exists in Marshall County.
To read the full report on the April storms and view the 20 specific recommendations authored by TRAC, download the report at TRACalabama.org.
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