National Weather Service cites Jefferson County for its hazardous weather preparedness

BROOKVILLE — Tuesday, Jefferson County was recognized as one of 47 counties across the state for its achievement of StormReady status.

The status, acknowledged by the National Weather Service, means the Jefferson County community has taken a proactive approach to improving local hazardous weather operations and public awareness with the local National Weather Service office in Pittsburgh.

Tracy Zents, director of the Jefferson County Department of Emergency Services, said the recognition is positive for the county.

“This shows that we’ve definitely got some accomplishments that we’ve made, he said.

“We always try to improve our program for the protection of our residents in the county, and to support our first responders and everyone that’s involved in it.”

Fred McMullen, warning coordination meteorologist of the National Weather forecast office in Pittsburgh, presented Zents with an award during Tuesday’s county commission meeting.

“Essentially, this is for the hard work Tracy has done,” McMullen said.
The nationwide community preparedness program uses a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle local severe weather and flooding threats.

To be recognized as StormReady, a community must establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center; have more than one way to receive severe weather forecasts and warnings and to alert the public; create a system that monitors local weather conditions; promote the importance of public readiness through community seminars; and develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises.

“We’re taking preventative measures in the event of storms … to notify the community to make sure they’re aware.” Zents said. “And to keep emergency responders up-to-date in order to save lives. That’s pretty much what it’s all about.”

In the last 30 years, Jefferson County has encountered two major disasters: An outbreak of tornados that occurred July 11, 1976, and, most recently, the flood of 1996.

According to McMullen, Zents has established a “great relationship” with the National Weather Service.

Most recently, he has kept the Pittsburgh office up to date with winter weather accidents on Interstate 80, which are usually big issues. Zents does this by sending photos to the Pittsburgh office.

“It’s a great relationship we have with Tracy and his folks at the 911 Center,” McMullen said. “It helps us to validate our warning systems.”
StormReady is voluntary and provides communities with clear-cut advice from the local National Weather Service forecast office and state and local emergency managers.

The program began in 1999 with seven communities in the Tulsa, Okla., area.

Today, there are more than 1,800 StormReady communities.

Furthermore, the StormReady program is part of the National Weather Service’s working partnership with the International Association of Emergency Managers and the National Emergency Management Association.

In addition to the award certificate, McMullen also presented Zents with two signs he can place anywhere in the county.

However, the StormReady recognition expires in three years, after which, Jefferson County will go through a renewal process.

“Only about half the state has received this,” McMullen said.

“(Jefferson County is) ahead of the game when it comes to weather preparedness and weather actions when inclement weather strikes.”

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