By Elise Hackett, COM 250 Reporter
Edited by Ellie Harmon, COM 303 Editor
ROME, Ga. – The National Weather Service renewed Berry College’s Storm Ready designation after three years.
Officials from the National Weather Service (NWS) visited Berry College in late September to review and renew the designation as a Storm Ready community after the previous three-year recognition expired. Berry College Assistant Vice President of Campus Safety, Gary Will, was fundamental in first receiving this status in December 2015.
Officials from the Floyd County Emergency Management Agency (EMA), outlined the requirements for designation, and Will responded. After Will submitted Berry’s application to NWS, the Service’s board in Peachtree City, Ga. approved it. NWS officials then visited the campus and verified that Berry complied with the guidelines and emergency preparation materials required.
“The designation lets people know that we are recognized by the NWS, that we have the equipment in place to be able to alert the Berry College campus of pending weather events,” Will said.
Floyd County was designated Storm Ready in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina. The county alerts its community of severe weather through various outlets, including social media, a mobile application and Code Red, a notification system that alerts recipients via text, email or call. The EMA continues to update its system every year to better prepare the community for severe weather.
While Berry has not made significant changes within its Storm Ready Program, Floyd County added more features to its mobile application, Floyd County EMA, created in 2014 and designed to alert the more digitized community of impending weather conditions. The updates made in 2017 added a damage assessment feature and “Where Am I” feature, which helps emergency responders more efficiently find those in need of help.
“We want to make sure that our community and citizens know we’re doing all that we can to make sure that we are prepared for the different emergency situations as they arise,” Tim Herrington, EMA director of emergency management said. “We have to constantly make sure we are updating and creating more plans because you can’t prepare for everything.”
Floyd County EMA also made changes to its weather software. Originally, the agency used a software called ThreatNet based in Atlanta, but since its previous renewal in 2015, the agency switched to a different software called StreamerRT. This new software is better for tracking specific weather, like lightning, and predicting future conditions to better warn the public.
“We put out a lot of information in the wintertime pertaining to weather, specifically snow, black ice, freezing temperatures, road closures, bridge icing, school closings,” Herrington said. “We push all that out over our app.”
Berry’s methods of informing the community are effective and within the NWS regulated parameters. These include the establishment of a 24-hour emergency operations center, more than one way to alert the public and continued maintenance of local monitoring.
The Berry gatehouse serves as the emergency operations center and the campus safety department also alerts students, faculty and staff of emergencies through text messages, emails and sirens, which are regularly tested the first Friday of every month.
Campus Safety’s access to live radars and chat rooms available through the online programming software function well for local weather monitoring. The software provides a continued presence of representatives from news and weather stations across Georgia in the chat room to post and receive live updates.
To fulfill additional requisites, Berry encourages public awareness through community seminars and the development of a formal hazardous weather plan. As part of the formal hazardous plan, the NWS hosted a two-hour training session at the Floyd County Emergency Management Office on September 20, 2018, which was open to the public as a community training measure to become official Storm Spotters. The Berry College Police Department and Will attended this training session, where they learned to properly observe storms and weather conditions to become certified as Storm Spotters — citizens who notify weather stations of local conditions.
Both Will and Herrington are confident that Berry College and Floyd County communities will maintain the Storm Ready status for many years to come.
“There are no plans to change it as long as we have it,” Will said.