Learning the drill

Mar. 05, 2014 @ 08:48 PM

Several weeks after two snowstorms shut down much of the state and a month before the third anniversary of the storm system that devastated Sanford, Raleigh and other nearby cities, Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a week of preparedness.

Local schools and government offices were required to spend Wednesday morning conducting tornado drills, and all other North Carolinians have been encouraged to take part in safety drills this week — dubbed Severe Weather Awareness Week — or to at least discuss what they’d do in case of severe weather.

“We’ve already seen [in February] how quickly severe storms can strike and how damaging the winds can be,” McCrory is quoted as saying in a press release. There were two tornadoes in Robeson County in February, and one in Wayne County.

Roger Millikin of Lee County Emergency Services said his office helped local schools plan their tornado drills — but that it wasn’t easy.

“They’ve all got too much glass in them,” he said, noting that all the schools were built before Lee County had experienced a major tornado. “... Up until [2011, when the tornado hit], we didn’t really think much of it.”

Coming up with a drill plan was a good process, Millikin said, because the brightly lit classrooms, with all their windows, would be dangerous in case of a tornado. He said with Emergency Services’ help, the schools have trained students and staff to go to the safest places on each individual campus in the event of another tornado.

Sharon Spence, public information officer for Lee County Schools, said Wednesday’s drill was the only one mandated by the state, but that local schools do several over the course of each school year. They also regularly conduct other types of emergency drills.

“The schools do fire drills, lock-down drills and things like that all year long,” Spence said.

In 2013, the state recorded 10 tornadoes that didn’t kill anyone but injured three people and caused more than $6 million in damages.

And recent changes in worldwide weather patterns — which many scientists attribute to climate change and warming in the Arctic — could possibly contribute to even more storms in this area.

“The way the weather has changed, and weather patterns have changed, I’d say it’s likely we could have as severe or more severe storms in the future,” Millikin said.

There are ways to be prepared for emergencies, Millikin said, including staying on top of the news. Many people have weather radios, and the county also has a texting service called CodeRed that alerts people in the area to local emergencies, from serious issues like tornadoes or terror attacks to more common emergencies like missing children or advisories to boil water.

Millikin described it as a “reverse-911” system through which local authorities alert regular citizens to emergencies. People can choose to receive either all the alerts or only specific kinds, like tornadoes or flash floods.

A link to the CodeRed registration page is on the scrolling feature on the county website’s home page at www.leecountync.gov, and it can be accessed directly at http://bit.ly/1kytTn9.

In light of Severe Weather Week, the state published several safety tips, including:

• Do not try to outrun a tornado in a vehicle, and do not stop under an overpass or a bridge. Seek shelter as quickly as possible in a stable structure.

• If caught outside in a tornado, take cover in a low-lying, flat area.

• Know the terms: “Watch” means a tornado is possible. “Warning” means a tornado has been spotted, so take shelter immediately.

More information can be found online at www.readync.org.