County cites last week in March for weather preparedness

BROOKVILLE — Tuesday, the Jefferson County Commissioners proclaimed the week of March 26-30 as Weather Emergency Preparedness Week.

Tracy Zents, director of emergency services for Jefferson County, said the week is crucial in preparing the county’s residents for possible severe weather outbreaks.

“(We need) to be prepared to take immediate action in the event of bad weather,” he said.

Zents also said the timing of the proclamation is also important, because the county is more susceptible to thunderstorms and tornados during the spring.

In addition to the county-wide proclamation, his department will participate in a statewide weather exercise. School districts, nursing homes and correctional facilities will also take part in drills.

Although the Weather Emergency Preparedness Week will not take place until the end of the month, Zents asks county residents to be cautious at all times.

“The weather has been unique, to say the least, so far for us,” he said. “We’ll get periods where it’ll be really warm and dry, and then rain, but the problem is, when it warms up, the top layers become very dry, and a fire can spread very rapidly.”

Echoing Zents’ concern, Thursday, Gov. Tom Corbett proclaimed the week of March 18-24 Wildfire Prevention Week in Pennsylvania.

“Warm, sunny days and drying March winds can cause wildfire dangers to spike almost overnight,” Corbett said.

“Last spring, wet, cool weather proved to be firefighters’ strongest ally, helping curb brush and woodlands fires that usually can be traced to carelessness and always endanger our vast forest resources.”

Last spring, volunteer firefighters and Bureau of Forestry personnel battled about 150 reported brush and forest fires that scorched almost 400 acres.

The largest was a mid-April blaze that burned 100 acres in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Zents is asking people to use caution when burning, and to especially avoid burning on windy days.

“If (you) have to burn, burn when it’s damp outside, so a fire will not spread,” he said.

“When people burn on windy days, it overtaxes our fire departments, and it causes a real risk to everyone involved, so we ask everyone to be really cautious with that.”

The Department of Emergency Services will continue to monitor the weather, and if conditions reach a point where it’s too dangerous to burn, the department will address it at that time, Zents added.

Also Tuesday, Zents reported updates concerning the temporary interruption of 911 services that occurred in Jefferson County early last Friday morning.

He said that a three-foot section of a copper trunk cable is being blamed for the temporary interruption.

“The coating somehow got water inside of it (and) that stopped the delivery of the functionality of the Windstream central office in Brookville and the 911 Center,” Zents said. “When that occurred, it actually stopped the computer system at the 911 center from receiving any 911 calls.”

Connectivity stopped around 2:20 a.m. last Friday.

At that time, the Department of Emergency Services immediately activated a county all call, which brought all police, fire and ambulance station personnel to their respective stations to man their phones in case anyone needed help, Zents said.

All stations were manned in 12 minutes, which Zents believes is “excellent” for the time in which the interruption occurred.

Also, the Emergency Alert System was activated, which also broadcasted the outage to radio and television stations giving instructions to citizens about how to reach emergency help.

The outage also caused a disruption to the law enforcement computer system. That information was then rerouted to Punxsutawney Borough Police, he added.

According to Zents, a few dispatchers were immediately moved to the Windstream Central Office which allowed for 911 calls to be received.
However, the outage also caused cell phone callers utilizing Verizon in the Brookville area to have limited or no signal.

But once temporary services were established, about 2 1/2 hours later, all emergency services were released.

911 dispatchers remained at the Windstream office until service was completely restored at 11 p.m. Friday.

“At no time did we lose any 911 calls,” Zents said. “We had everything in place prior to that. It just made it a little difficult for a while.”
Commission Chairman Paul Corbin thanked Zents and his dispatchers for their diligence at the difficult time.

“I’m sure there were a lot of hours put in, and a lot of tension,” Corbin said.

Zents said his staff did an “exceptional” job, and made sure the situation worked out well.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners:

• Proclaimed the week of March 19-23 as Mentor Parent Program Week in Jefferson County.

• Adopted a Safety Policy Statement to be included in the county’s Personnel Policy.

In other business:
• The next county commission meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday March 30.